Four Newark residents are being labelled as ‘heroes’ for saving four age-old trees in a beloved community garden from destruction.
The trees in Library Gardens, Newark were at imminent risk of being felled, after Newark and Sherwood district councillors (NSDC) voted to create a small car park extension not wanted by the community.
Just as council contractors wielding chainsaws prepared to chop them down, an eleventh-hour deal was struck to save the trees.
Ali Carter, 53, Darrell Pointing, 76, Pamela Ball, 60, and Wendy Patterson, 64, had refused police requests to leave the Newark Library Garden last Thursday.
Instead, they stayed overnight in freezing conditions to protect the green space and four threatened trees, estimated to be up to 120 years old, after Newark and Sherwood District Council had planned to destroy them and build a carpark.
The four, who had vowed to chain themselves to the trees, were in the midst of a dramatic stand-off following years of campaigning against the carpark plans by community group Protect Newark’s Green Spaces (PNGS).
Peaceful protest events attracted hundreds, a petition gathered 5000 signatures and there was support from celebrities including Chris Packham and author, Matt Haig, who grew up in Newark. Residents guarded the trees round-the-clock on a rota system to prevent work starting.
Yet on the morning of 11 November – Remembrance Day – council contractors began fencing in over 50 campaigners gathered in the gardens, one of Newark’s last remaining town centre green spaces.
After the peaceful crowd were surrounded with 6ft metal fence panels and warned that they faced arrest by staying in the compound, most left.
Jo Smith, 86, stayed for several hours but left at nightfall, leaving the last four campaigners onsite, who were quickly dubbed the ‘Fab Four’ by supporters.
There they stayed as night fell, with supporters passing blankets, hot water bottles and warm drinks over the barricades as a musician turned up to serenade them with ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
Newark MP Robert Jenrick also visited the site, with Wendy Patterson telling him: “The trees and garden are hours, possibly minutes, away from destruction. All we have left are our bodies so we stand in the way of this going ahead and will continue to do so. We are ordinary people with no power who are doing the right thing.”
Campaigners insisted that there was evidence of bats – a protected species – roosting in the trees, after an independent survey had detected 108 bat calls in 40 minutes. Despite that, a council-ordered ‘preliminary bat survey’ was carried out by a mask-clad worker on Friday (12/11) morning, which the council claimed showed no evidence of bat presence. This meant that the tree felling could go ahead.
On Friday afternoon – the last day of COP26 in Glasgow – tree surgeons came to the site with chainsaws.
With the tree felling moments away, NSDC deputy leader, Keith Girling, arrived and dramatically announced that work must be halted immediately.
This was due to a new deal offered to the council by landowner Dan Derry, who bought the gardens from the council in 2017 and then leased it back to them in order for it to be turned into a carpark.
Keith Girling said that this deal would allow the council to cancel the car park development and return the land to the people of Newark.
After leaving the site on Friday evening, knowing it was likely to be saved, the Fab Four welcomed the offer, with Pamela Ball saying: “My young grandchildren and all the other children will now be able to continue using one of our last remaining town centre green spaces. This garden could have a real purpose now and continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.”
The Fab Four are now urging NSDC to vote unanimously to save the Library Garden at an Extraordinary Full Council Meeting at Castle House, Newark next week. Councillor Girling has indicated that he will vote to save the trees and green space and hopes other Councillors will too.
“I ask the council to save our Library Garden as their contribution to tackling the climate emergency.” said Ali Carter.
Darrell Pointing added: “I was very ill with bowel cancer seven years ago and, lying in my hospital bed I promised myself that if I survived I would campaign to improve the environment for my children and grandchildren. That is why I stayed with the trees. Now I call on the council to do the right thing too.”
Recalling her sense of overwhelming dread during her night in the compound, Wendy Patterson said she felt “imminent grief”.
“I spent a lot of time looking at the trees through that night and felt imminent grief at what seemed to be their last hours of life when they should have decades if not hundreds of years of life to do their job for the planet,” she said.
Fellow campaigner Emma Oldham – who organised several protests at the site – said that community spirit had ultimately won the day.
“The people of Newark are the true heroes in this story,” she said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Tremendous generosity, unity, passion and awareness now ripples through the community of Newark. This positive turnaround couldn’t have happened without it.”
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