"It's nothing less than we've come to expect from Peel" Councillor Garrido
"I was wearing my Salford City Reds top and it has Peel on there as a sponsor" recalls Olivia Cummings "I was walking about with my hand over it as much as I could; I was so embarrassed and so ashamed for wearing it…"
Olivier is just one of loads of local young people who have grown up playing around the huge silver birches in the field at the back of houses on Birchfield Drive in Boothstown. For them, both the field and the dens built near the trees are magical places that have spanned generations. Then, last Friday, it all came crashing down as Peel Holdings sensed a quick buck to be made.
"We used to play in the dens behind the trees, and, as the trees went down, our den went down and all our childhood memories were gone" adds Olivier "We can't go in there any more."
Her friend, Oliver Ward, also witnessed Peel Holdings' eco policies at first hand…
"I was stood right in front of it and there were loads of silver birches, some sixty feet high, coming down, I was shocked" he says "Our childhood just crashed. They didn't even put fences up, only when they knew we were going to tell. They lied to the police as well – it's disgusting. I video-d it on my brother's phone."
Peel Holdings might have got away with it completely, but for the pesky kids and residents who organised a spontaneous protest on the field, complete with banners.
"There was tree felling with no notification to residents or notices on the entrances to protect children, so we all headed on to the field and asked them to stop but they refused point blank" says resident Angela Hilton "We started trying to block them, the police were called and then they did stop and promised not to fell any more trees. But ten minutes later, after the police had gone, they carried on. We filmed about half a dozen trees being felled and we went out again, then more police came…"
During the events, local councillor, Robin Garrido, was trying to get an emergency tree preservation order from Salford Council but by the time it arrived, most of the damage had been done. Councillor Garrido says he was `appalled'…
"On Friday I got a phone call from one of the residents saying they were up in arms that Peel Holdings had got contractors felling trees on the site" he says "I got in touch with the Council which checked out the situation and advised that there were no preservation orders on the trees and that, because the site wasn't in a conservation area, there was nothing they could do, which was quite right.
"I came down to the site, saw what was happening, spoke to the Council again and they agreed that we could get an emergency tree preservation order" he adds "That was at 4:45pm,and at about 5:45pm an officer of the Council came down to the site with the preservation orders, which means that they can't remove any more trees without planning permission.
"We're a bit concerned because we did agree with the contractors and Peel prior to that being served that no further trees would be felled that day" he explains "Immediately after I left and the residents went back to their houses they felled a further six trees which is absolutely disgusting. I think it's appalling that a company should behave in that sort of way but to be honest it's nothing less than we've come to expect from Peel."
Residents believe that the motive for the tree slaughter is the preparation of the green site for building houses. In 2004 there was a planning application submitted for housing which was rejected on the grounds of wildlife habitat destruction amongst other things. Now the wildlife is being driven out.
Residents told the Salford Star that, in 2004, Peel Holdings owned half the field, while Salford Council owned the other half – yet when the Council was checking into the tree preservation order last week, apparently the site is wholly owned now by Peel.
"We want to know when the Council sold it" says Angela "If they sold it after 2004 when they knew Peel wanted to build on it then, obviously, that's naughty. There are a lot of houses around here and the only places children can go to play is either over the East Lancs Road, which is a hazard, or the main road which is a danger. There's always kids on here. This is the only green space they have."
Last night, around forty local residents attended a meeting at Boothstown Library and vowed to carry on the fight against Peel.
"We don't trust Peel Holdings, and we've got someone on lookout so they don't cut any more trees down when they're `tidying up'" says resident Michelle Baglin "We're all working class on here, and we look forward to taking the kids on the field. They do have a good life but Peel don't care. If we came down to their houses and ripped the trees out of their gardens I'm sure they would be kicking off like we are.
"Birchfield was named after these birches and they've just butchered them" she adds "Well, the public is not going to stay quiet any longer. The mums are going to speak up and carry on fighting for our children."
Photos by Abbey Baglin Photography