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Tree felling at Riverside Project site in Stratford sparks protest

OUTRAGE was sparked when worked started on the Riverside Project in Stratford this week with the cutting down of trees.

Cyril Bennis at the site on Wednesday morning Photo: Mark Williamson (54834162)
Cyril Bennis at the site on Wednesday morning Photo: Mark Williamson (54834162)

A police officer was on site yesterday (Wednesday) as one protester, Cyril Bennis of Stratford Swan Rescue, tried to persuade workmen from taking chainsaws to the trees.

While Stratford District Council described the work as “essential maintenance”, there was concern dozens of trees had been felled in an area known as the swan reserve close to Stratford Marina.

The work has further fuelled anger at the project, which was opposed by many in the planning and consultation process, to build new foot and cycle paths, install new, disabled-friendly bridges and, eventually create a local nature reserve.

Part of that work was to manage the biodiversity of the area known as Lench Meadows and Fisherman’s car park – something which has not happened for decades.

However, the felling of trees and the disturbance of wildlife in the area has reignited anger and concern.

The scheme’s opposition argue there has been a consistent lack of information and detail about the phasing of work commissioned by Stratford District Council and Stratford Town Trust – who are managing the scheme – which led to the felling of trees without advance notification.

When contractors carrying chainsaws arrived yesterday to chop down trees marked with red paint they were confronted by Mr Bennis, who is chairman of the Swan Management Committee. He was then involved in a standoff with contractors at the site as he tried to persuade them to stop work.

He told the Herald: “This is not acceptable in this day and age. Some of these trees have been here for 40 years and now they’re gone. It’s the vandalism by the authority who are on a mission and are riding roughshod over the community.”

A spokesperson for The Friends of Lench Meadows added that the “lack of transparency by the district council and town trust throughout the project had created mistrust among users of the area.”

The spokesperson also pointed out that 1st March signalled the start of the bird nesting season – and asked if work would stop then.

John Dews, who owns Stratford Marina and car park, said: “There’s a hell of a lot of trees going down. I’ve seen roe deer running away in panic. Aren’t we supposed to be looking after nature not cutting it down? This place is nature at its best and chainsaws don’t improve nature do they?”

A Stratford District Council spokesperson said: “Work is currently being carried out as part of an essential maintenance programme while the planning conditions for the developments are being met.”

Previously, Tony Perks, the deputy chief executive of Stratford District Council, has said: “The work over the coming months will cause some disruption and naturally the area will not look at its best while it is ongoing. However, once complete the resulting new bridge and improved paths will make the Riverside area accessible for all, connecting the town and bringing everyone closer to nature.”

Last week the council also stressed that it had held meetings with businesses about the Riverside Project work.

The timescale for completion of the project, which will see changes from behind the Crowne Plaza hotel to Fisherman’s car park, is approximately five months.

Once completed the project will include a pond dipping area, boardwalk, new bike and cycle paths, and a new bridge.

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