Over the last few days letters from Network Rail have been dropping through the letterboxes of households abutting the railway line between Palmers Green and Enfield Chase. The letter advises residents that VEGETATION MANAGEMENT WORKS are about to commence along the 3.5 mile stretch on December 2nd and will continue until February 7th.
Following hundreds of emails from local residents to Network Rail's Community Manger and senior managers and lobbying by David Burroughs, Network Rail has postponed the 'vegetation maintenance' planned for the N21 embankments.
Over the past few days dozens of you, from Hoppers Road to The Chine, have contacted Network Rail's Community Relations Manager Denise Thompson. You have made your concerns and outrage about Network Rail's embankment work very loud and clear. The new residents of Henrietta Close (where the garden centre used to be) have reported to Network Rail, the police and the Bat Protection League that there are bats living in the trees between Compton Road and Station Road and removing trees inhabited by bats is a criminal offence.
Together we have won a stay of execution. The work on the embankments between Palmers Green and Enfield Chase has been postponed, apart from urgent work to remove branches of a tree near Grange Park Station on Saturday night, which are touching the overhead lines. What's more, 'Disgusted N21' have started to extract new promises from Network Rail's senior management. Paul Rutter, NR's Director for London North and South met with David Burrowes yesterday and has agreed to meet with residents to discuss Grange Park replanting and the proposed line-side clearance work; appoint an independent assessor and involve the Tree Council in future planting.
Progress, but only time will tell if Network Rail will finally fulfill their obligations and take community relations more seriously.
Alarm bells have started ringing. The letter has arrived just ahead of the date that work is due to commence and the letter bears a striking resemblance to the letter which preceded the embankment clearance around Winchmore Hill station in 2010 and the Great Grange Park Tree Massacre. Whilst safety is of course of paramount importance, now as in 2011, it has been widely acknowledged that the wholesale vegetation clearance was more for the convenience and potential profit of Network Rail, with zero concern for the environmental damage and massive upset for people living in the area, who are also Network Rail's own customers.
After the clearance we had apologies, from no less than the Network Rail Chairman David Higgins who assured us that Network Rail would learn from this incident and adapt their community engagement and consultation. Mr Higgins has now departed, taking up his new role this month as Chairman of HS2, tasked to "drive down costs".
In the last couple of days urgent requests have been sent to Denise Thompson, Network Rail's Community Manager, who was the signatory of the letter, from our elected representatives including David Burrowes MP and Grange Park's Councillor Terry Neville, to clarify exactly what is proposed. Surely one would expect that NR's Community Manger can be contacted by telephone? No such luck. You have to call Network Rail's 24 Hour National Helpline, who will rely the message to Ms Thompson. She won't call you back but email a suitably vague response along the lines of "we will get back to you".
We are promised an "ecological survey". Perhaps this will be similar to the one undertaken in Whitstable, Kent by Network Rail contractors Capel. When a Whitstable resident asked the Capel employee charged with performing a nest survey what qualifications he held for doing so and the employee said "I've got birds at the end of my garden, mate"
Following the vegetation clearance Network Rail's Senior Lineside Engineer Dr Neil Strong gave a presentation at the Civic Centre in March 2011 outlining the proposals for replanting the site, backed up by a three year maintenance contact "to enable planting to establish successfully".
You can view the presentation here.
It took several months of lobbying to even get Network Rail to a meeting to discuss replanting the site, but in September 2011 a group representing local residents and council officers met to agree the planting, with assurances that the area would be replanted with native species and wild flowers, with an agreement to review the planting after a year, As soon as the planting was done, it was apparent that the single line of twigs was unlikely to provide the screening that Network Rail had promised.
Here is Network Rail's own illustration of how the planting should look after three years - including hedgerow 7.5 metres wide, not one semi - dead line of twigs.
A year came and went, we have now passed the two year point, and many of the trees and shrubs have died or else are unable to grow because they are still encased in plastic. Despite countless emails from numerous residents and elected representatives to Denise Thompson, we have got no further than vague promises that a contractor will visit the site shortly.
We want a site visit NOW, before any further work is undertaken and to finally start to plan the proper restoration of the Grange Park site.
Network Rail have failed to fulfil their promises. The way in which we have been treated is a travesty, poor community relations and corporate governance.
Here are some of the views expressed by elected representatives and local residents. Perhaps you would like to have your say via the comment box below, as we try to get Network Rail back to Grange Park and ensure that they don't undertake further wanton environmental destruction. Your email details will not be published and your full name will not be used if you prefer.
"David is concerned about the number of trees that have died on site and the sparseness of the replanting which contradicts the replanting promised by Network Rail some while ago. David would therefore like to attend the site visit if he can and to be informed of what plans Network Rail have for properly planting the area according to the plans previously agreed. David would therefore appreciate knowing that the site visit will be going ahead soon and he would be grateful if you could copy him in to the notification of the proposed date".
Jane Kelly, Constituency Office Manager, on behalf of David Burrowes MP
"I very much support the residents in their campaign to ensure that the land abutting the railway is restored as nearly as possible to its former glory. I readily accept that there were safety concerns about the size and spread of some of the trees and growth so have no axe to grind about the need for some action at the time, though I was concerned about the scale and the inadequate consultation. That said I don't want or need to rehearse the earlier dispute, save to say that I do think that it is important to residents and to the Council that we make the best of what is for many a particularly attractive part of the area, viz the area around the station and for that matter Winchmore Hill Station".
Councillor Terry Neville, Grange Park ward
"The subject of "Vegetation Management" is a sensitive one, and has been the subject of much correspondence over the years, as it seems that on each occasion Network Rails contractors are overly enthusiastic in their efforts, which have previously resulted in the total destruction of swathes of trees and shrubs, which have posed no safety threat to the railway whatsoever. I am aware that trackside vegetation has to be kept under control, I just want to ensure that what is planned will not once again result in unnecessary destruction and devastation".
Peter Duce, local resident
"Network Rail are incapable of managing vegetation. It gets in their way. So they remove it. And they then rely on an oxymoron of a Community Relations Officer to deal with the outcry by living up to the last two syllables of my description of her. They are hoping that in time we will go away. We must continue to stay strong. Let us prove them wrong".
Peter Johns, local resident
"It appears that Network Rail are attempting to utilise their tried, tested and to date successful 'modus operandi' of notifying interested parties as late as possible (if at all) doing exactly as they please and presenting a 'fait accompli'. Once the irreversible damage is done they can just shrug off any responsibility - as we have seen so clearly previously" Julie Wassmer, environmental campaigner, Whitstable
"It's a shame that current day bureaucrats forget that they are the servants of the people and instead act like dictators. Those particularly at the top need to be held more accountable to the people they serve instead of treating them with contempt" Councillor Ertan Hurer, Winchmore Hill ward
"It's not their money, and it's not their local community. I would say Network Rail is indifferent to the wishes of local residents but, at times, senior officers have seemed positively contemptuous. Councillor Martin Prescott, Winchmore Hill ward
Network Rail environmental policies are currently being investigated by the European Council and a case study of Grange Park will be included in the next submission.
Hang on a minute - do I see another holding (albeit apologetic) email in my inbox?. Sorry Ms Thompson we're tired of waiting. Lets keep up the pressure N21.