Environment: Threat to Kingston's poplar trees draws the eco-veteran warriors

The London borough of Kingston, one of London's most salubrious residential areas, has become the latest focus of confrontation between developers and eco-warriors.

Plans to fell 56 poplar trees in a public park bordering the river Thames are encountering bitter opposition from local residents, who have set up a well-organised and vocal protest group, Friends of Canbury Gardens.

But a handful of so-called "veterans", of the Newbury Bypass and Twyford Downs disputes, have descended on the town and erected rope ladders between the trees in preparation for their defence of the poplars when the chainsaws arrive.

The row of poplars was planted in the Thirties to shield Canbury Gardens from a power station, since decommissioned and demolished.

Fairclough Homes, a developer, is building an estate of luxury flats and houses on the derelict land.

Part of the agreement signed by the Liberal Democrat-run council with Fairclough Homes was that permission would be granted to chop down the trees, so that the estate would have river views.

This has just come to the notice of residents living near the park, who have put together a petition containing 4,500 signatures.

Dennis Doe, a Conservative councillor, said that insufficient attention was paid to the trees during formulation of an area development plan.

"The poplars got relegated," he said. "It is being said that they're dead anyway, which they are not."

The arrival of the ecological protesters has not been greeted with unmitigated enthusiasm by Kingston's affluent residents, some of whom regard them as an eyesore. One, who identified himself only as Ian, said the council was "trying to privatise public space".

Jack Taylor, a council spokesman, said that the borough was looking into the legal situation regarding the protesters, but that it would be up to the developers to evict them if they took to the trees. "We don't want anyone to get injured," he said.

Mr Taylor said the developers had pledged to spend pounds 25,000 on replanting trees and landscaping the gardens. The issue is to be discussed again at a full council meeting on 17 December.

-Kathy Marks

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