The Save the Alexandra Park trees group launched the petition last December and has been protesting with local residents at the park since the council-led fellings that began on the 22nd of January.
The removals are being carried out as part of a massive £5.5m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and council-backed regeneration scheme and have proven a lasting point of contention within the local community. The plans aim to recreate the park’s original Victorian design and introduce new community facilities including tennis courts and flower beds.
Several people have since set up camp in the Whalley Range Park in opposition to the continued removals of a number of trees heavily disputed by demonstrators and the council.
They claim that the council have attempted to hide the true number of trees to be felled, which they have numbered at 400 along with 3.3 acres of wildlife habitat, as part of the long-awaited redevelopment.
The council has stated that the figure is now closer to 230 following a public consultation that took place in December which has led to a decrease in the number of planned tennis courts and further preservation of the wetland area. It said that 90% of the tree stock in the park will be retained, which includes 92 new trees they say will be planted. A bio-diversity plan was also recently carried out as a condition of planning approval.
Campaigners fear that the council’s actions will threaten biodiversity, protected habitats and species and have questioned the council’s decision to remove 58 trees to create “safer-feeling areas” in response to public consultation.
A council report of a visitor survey in summer stated that 96% of those consulted said they “felt safe or very safe in the park” as it was.
One campaigner, Ian Brewer, spoke from the northern end of the park where tree fellings had recently taken place.
He said: “We agree with 90% of the council’s redevelopment plans. We just believe that the amount of planned fellings is not necessary. There is no reason why the facilities such as the flower beds can’t be built whilst safeguarding the trees from destruction, there is enough room for both.
“A lot of the people we talked to didn’t know about the felling levels. The council have presented to groups but I don’t think they revealed the true extent of the felling and the amount of trees to be felled isn’t clear on the official diagrams.
“I think the fact the biodiversity plan was carried out in winter affects findings as a lot of creatures are in hibernation; you can’t assess to what extent the trees are being used as well.
“We plan to stay here as long as possible to try bring the council and the HLF back to the drawing board but unfortunately I don’t think the council have any intention of changing tack unless they are publicly humiliated into accepting that the vast majority of local people didn’t know anything about the number of intended fellings.
“The camp is feeling pretty demoralised at the moment but the support of the local community has been great.”
George, who lives near to the park on Russell Street, said: “The park is in a built up area with lots of traffic so these trees are really important for absorbing the CO2 that is being emitted. They make the area a lot less polluted for residents; chopping them down won’t benefit anyone’s health.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to in the area thinks the trees never made anyone feel unsafe.
“We just feel powerless, this park is owned by the people but I don’t think there’s any room for democratic decision-making. Someone in an office has made a plan and they just want to stick to it regardless.
Despite concerns from parts of the community Paul Benson-Hannam, chair of the Friends of Alexandra Park, believes that plans for the development have not been underhand.
He said: “The council has listened to the public and modified the development based on that. There is clearly a difference of opinion but that’s always going to be the case with this regeneration.
“I’m absolutely happy with the proposals and think they will improve the biodiversity. It’s a public park, not a wildlife reserve, so larger community considerations have to be taken. There is plenty of countryside around the outside of the city.”
Councillor Nigel Murphy, who grew up in the area said: “Alex Park was my local park as I grew up and is somewhere I still regularly visit, know and love.”
“We have listened to the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit’s recommendations and the RSPB are also monitoring the situation to prevent disturbance of birds”
“I know some parts of the park look a bit stark now but in the early stages of any major project it can be difficult to see the final vision.”
The Save Alexandra Park trees group has called on residents to sign the petition and ask their local councillor and MP to take action. For more information about the campaign and to sign the petition visit: http://savealexandraparkstrees.wordpress.com/