|Issue 5 - May 1972|
|Its More Than Just Trees...|
So we made our point to Newcastle City Council about the felling of 300 (or is it 500? See below) mature trees in Brandling and Exhibition Parks. In the end, of course we couldn't stop the felling in Exhibition Park because we couldn't stop Costain's, the contractors, without serious risk to life and limb. Reason: according to enquiries we made at the Civic Centre, Costain's are on a fixed price contract, with a penalty clause in it which becomes operable if they don't finish on time. So, needless to add, they weren't stopping for anyone.
We started off a step behind because they started 12 days later than announced. For days we had kept watch - until we thought they were never going to start! But start they did; and, within the hour, we had people on the site. And we succeeded in delaying the operation for some 2½ hours that day.
Following a SOC'EM! Committee Meeting that same evening, 15 SOC'EM! Members removed a 30-foot tree from Exhibition Park, carried it across the Great North Road and towed it by car to the Civic Centre, where it was placed on the front steps at midnight and painted with the slogan "SOC'EM LOVES ARTHUR: ONE OF THE 500".
Early the following day, we started the demonstration in Exhibition Park again. There, the people who were present were treated to a visit from a City Councillor who - so the story goes - announced himself thus: "Good morning. What can I do for you?"
On being told that he could stop the tree felling for a start, he replied: "Oh, I can't do that". Then, becoming involved in a heated discussion with the protesters, he asked one of them if he would kindly move, because "I think a press photographer wants to get a picture of me"! (It never appeared.)
Later, we understood, a reporter asked him: "Why aren't you replanting some of the younger trees instead of destroying them?" - to which he replied: "What a good idea! We never thought of that!"
Then the reporter asked him why they were burning the trees after knocking them down. "WHAT else could we do with them?" he asked. When the reporter suggested that the Council might have cut them up and distributed the logs to old people, he again expressed surprise at "such a good idea"! Then, turning to the protesters, he said: "If you would like to go home and come back with axes and saws, you can take away as many logs as you can carry"!
Oh, it had its hilarious moments; but the overall situation was - and is - deadly serious. For instance, when the unknown old man was seen, looking across at the Council-created wasteland, with tears rolling down his cheeks ...
Why bother about the trees? one might ask. And the answer to that is that there's more to SOC'EM's angry attitude than just trees, important though they are in themselves. Because the Brandling / Exhibition trees are just a small part of the destruction of Newcastle as a city of character, as a place to really live in with pride.
SOC'EM! Objects to the present urban motorway plans altogether. We think they're years out of date - before construction has even started. We think Newcastle is far too compact a city to support such concrete monstrosities - it would be dominated by them. And we think it rather ridiculous that this plan should be forced on the people of Newcastle at a time when - throughout the civilised world - the whole concept of urban motorways is under suspicion.
So we fight. And, in fighting, we discover things about the Council's tactics that horrify us. Above all they lie, to convince the people of Newcastle that they are right - or to lure them into a false state of security.
Lie Number One: that only 300 trees were to be demolished at Brandling / Exhibition Parks. But, only a few days after the announcement, the number was increased to 500. Yet at least 1,250 trees will have been demolished to connect up the proposed Coast Road motorway!
Lie Number Two: it would cost the people of Newcastle £2,000,000 if the Council were to buy the "Douglas" Hotel site for an open square. Yet, in his report to the Planning Committee, the City Planning Officer actually wrote: "THE TOTAL FORESEEABLE COST, THEREFORE, IS NOT EASY TO ESTIMATE BUT IT COULD POSSIBLY AMOUNT TO ABOUT £1 MILLION, INCLUDING PURCHASE OF THE SITE".
We must prevent these lies from being accepted as truths. We must open people's eyes to what is going on in the name of 'progress' in Newcastle. Is it 'progress' to build speculative office blocks when the vast majority of unemployed are manual workers? Is it 'progress' to sell Newcastle 'down the river' to outside developers? Is it 'progress' to build urban motorways costing millions of pounds when houses and schools and factories are vitally needed? Is it 'progress' to put the motor car before people? Is it 'progress' to do next to nothing about our public transport system? And is it 'progress' to build concrete boxes on every available open space?
The Council's stated aim is "to turn Newcastle into the regional capital of the north". If they would accept that Newcastle is - and always has been - a "workshop of the world", instead of trying to make it a fancy showplace for visitors by buying prestige with the Newcastle public's money, they would find that Newcastle could earn for itself the title of "capital".
So SOC'EM! will continue to campaign. And people can help, at the Municipal Elections, by writing "SOC'EM!" across their ballot papers - thereby executing a vote of 'no confidence' in the same old dreary parties now in Council.
... And their same old dreary policies.
Alan Brown (Chairman, Save Our City From Environmental Mess!)