Environmentalist Rebecca Frayn attacks Chiswick councillor Joanna Biddolph’s “undemocratic” and “deranged” behaviour

Image above: Rebecca Frayn; photograph James Willcocks

The chair of Friends of Turnham Green, environmentalist Rebecca Frayn has launched a furious attack on councillor for Turnham Green ward Cllr Joanna Biddolph, calling her behaviour “undemocratic” and “deranged”.

Frayn says the work of her group of community volunteers is being made “increasingly untenable” by the “high handed autocratic and self-serving behaviour” of the councillor.

In a letter to the Leader of Hounslow Council Cllr Steve Curran and Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, Cllr Samia Chaudhary, she says Biddolph’s “new outburst” in the W4 newsletter, her latest Twitter post and her open letter “ranting on” to Cllr Chaudhary amount to a:

“one woman mission to prevent any new tree planting on Turnham Green”.

Biddolph is, she writes:

“apparently prepared to go to quite extraordinary and undemocratic lengths to achieve this goal. Not content with having crashed Friends of Turnham Green, a well respected community group of 14 years standing, Cllr Biddolph has now launched a deranged attack on the council’s tree consultation – a consultation solely designed to resolve the very problem that she herself single-handedly created last year.”

Images above: Avenue of cherry trees on Turnham Green – photograph by Andy Murray; disappointed volunteers who turned up to plant trees in February 2020

Cherrygate round two

She is referring to the sequence of events dubbed ‘Cherrygate’ when in February 2020 Friends of Turnham Green, working with the Council’s Parks department, paid for ten cherry trees of the non-fruiting Prunus avium Plena variety to be planted on Turnham Green to fill in the gaps in the existing avenue of cherry trees, but were prevented from planting them because Cllr Biddolph challenged the decision.

The Council owns Turnham Green and maintain it at a basic level. The Friends have worked with them to enhance the park with their own designs and extra planting, but the Council has to take overall responsibility. If a councillor ‘calls in’ a decision by a council officer, they have no choice but to delay and reconsider.

Volunteers turned up with spades in hand, ready to plant the trees, to be told it had been cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice. The planting had been placed on hold because Joanna Biddolph had questioned the democratic nature of the decision.

The choice of trees had been made at the Friends’ AGM the previous month, where the 28 people present had voted unanimously to plant more trees and 21, three quarters of those present, had voted for cherry trees.

Trees have to be planted with a certain period of time because of weather and ground conditions, so while to political ramifications continued, the trees were planted elsewhere. In the fall out Frayn resigned as chair and the society went into abeyance while it was reconstituted and new elections were held.

Rebecca Frayn was re-elected chair in November 2020 with 79% vote. Jill Spencer, who had opposed the planting of cherry trees and complained to Cllr Biddolph about the decision, stood against Rebecca, winning 21% the vote. Frayn would now like to get back to where they were two years ago, ordering cherry trees to fill in the gaps in the avenue.

READ ALSO:  Life is just a bowl of cherries – not

READ ALSO: Rebecca Frayn re-elected as chair of Turnham Green Friends

Image above: Turnham Green

Tree consultation

This year the Council launched a tree consultation, aimed at giving everyone in the area an opportunity to approve or reject the tree planting proposals. They have produced a map of Turnham Green and a list of the trees proposed and even a link to the Woodland Trust website explaining the form, habit and growth potential of the trees listed.

The trees include an Indian Bean tree, a Tulip tree, a Foxglove tree, a Magnolia, a Hornbeam, a Whitebeam, an Elm, a Crab-apple a Wild service tree and nine Cherry trees.

Image above: LB Hounslow map of tree planting proposal for Turnham Green

LB Hounslow points out the need to plant more trees as part of the fight to slow down climate change and to the importance of trees as food sources for insects, birds, and mammals, as well as the well being of the human population.

‘The Council has received proposals for tree planting on Turnham Green. The Councils GreenSpace360 (GS360) Tree Manager has reviewed the proposals, taking into consideration the suggested locations and species of trees. Based on this they have advised what would be the most suited species of tree for each location.

‘Following a previous request for tree planting on the Green in 2020. It was considered that wider consultation was required before any trees are to be planted on the Green.

‘We would like to ask residents and users of Turnham Green for their views on the proposals.’

See the map here:  Turnham Green Tree Planting Proposals

Take part in the survey here: Turnham Green Tree Planting Survey

The consultation lasts until 7 January 2022.

Cllr Biddolph’s complaints

In her blog on the W4 website Cllr Biddolph described the consultation as ‘wholly inadequate’.

She complains that it is digital only, though paper copies are available in libraries.

She complains that there is ‘No list of the names and numbers of each existing tree’ in the plan.

She complains that the planting proposals were not discussed with a particular specialist from Kew, who she heard speaking on Radio 4 about threatened species.

The council officer who chose the trees is an arboriculturalist with a Level 4 Diploma in Arboriculture from Merrist Wood College.

She complains that participants are only able to like or dislike specific proposals, and that they are not able to add an infinite variety of other species which the Council would then have to go away and research for suitability.

She complains that the form doesn’t require an email address ‘or any other limiting factor’ so she was able to fill it out four times. When I filled it out, as well as capturing my IP address, the form asked for my email address and postcode.

‘I had asked for the survey to be withdrawn and revised so we can take it seriously but that hasn’t happened’ she wrote.

Biddolph’s “Compulsive need to crush all local initiatives”

In her letter to Steve Curran and Samia Chaudhary, Rebecca Frayn goes on to say:

“Biddolph’s compulsive need to crush all local initiatives such as tree planting, street parties, the delightful and successful flower and cheese markets, her bizarre poster campaign, ‘Hounslow destroying Chiswick’ and her bogus use of the lobbying group Taskforce Chiswick which purports to represent local traders despite the fact she is it’s only member, raises serious questions about her conduct as a councillor.

“It has become only too apparent that Biddolph is abusing her role as a public servant by using it as a platform to exclusively represent her own views and try to prevent any local initiative, regardless of the proposals merits or popularity, and to intervene with a completely inappropriate level of micro-interference.

“She has certainly made no attempt of any kind to canvas what the majority views might be on any of the issues she has so vitriolically and energetically opposed…

“The vast majority of locals enthusiastically support the council’s borough-wide planting schemes designed to constructively contribute to the climate crisis. The voting on the Consultation will almost certainly support this initiative, which is presumably why she has decided to spuriously attempt yet again to subvert a democratic process.”

She finishes her letter, written in her personal capacity, not representing the Friends of Turnham Green:

“my request to you is this – can you please help Cllr Chaudhary hold the line on new tree planting on Turnham Green and stop this relentless subversion of local democracy in its tracks?”

Frayn: One of the Most Influential Environmental Campaigners

Rebecca Frayn is a novelist, screenwriter/ film maker and environmental activist. In 2008, she co-founded the environmental lobbying group Climate Action Now with a group of fellow female journalists and writers, and was nominated by the Evening Standard as one of the 100 Most Influential Environmental Campaigners of the year.

She founded Friends of Turnham Green in 2007 and has worked ever since to renovate what had been quite a neglected park. Friends of Turnham Green have successfully lobbied to remove derelict buildings and in their place establish a natural play area for children together with a large wild flower meadow.

Since then they have also established more insect friendly planting and as a result, the park has received the Green Flag award from the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy for the past four years.

Read her letter to the Leader of Hounslow Council Cllr Steve Curran and Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, Cllr Samia Chaudhary here:

The Letter

Dear Steve,

I usually go to great lengths to avoid the endless skirmishes and spats of local politics.  But as chair of Friends of Turnham Green, I am part of a group of community volunteers whose work is being made increasingly untenable by the high handed autocratic and self-serving behaviour of Councillor Joanna Biddolph. The vast majority of community volunteers in Chiswick share my frustration at her methods which is why I’m writing to you.

You may or may not have seen her new outburst on last weeks W4 newsletter.  Or her latest twitter post.   Or her open letter ranting on to Cllr Samia Chaudhary.  All of which make it plain she continues on her one woman mission to prevent any new tree planting on Turnham Green and is apparently prepared to go to quite extraordinary and undemocratic lengths to achieve this goal. Not content with having crashed Friends of Turnham Green, a well respected community group of 14 years standing, Cllr Biddolph has now launched a deranged attack on the council’s tree consultation – a consultation solely designed to resolve the very problem that she herself single-handedly created last year.

In overriding the members’ wishes at the 2020 AGM of Friends of Turnham Green, as you know she sparked a debate that was quickly dubbed Cherrygate in the local press and led to my resignation.  With local elections now only 6 months away, Biddolph’s compulsive need to crush all local initiatives such as tree planting, street parties, the delightful and successful flower and cheese markets, her bizarre poster campaign, ‘Hounslow destroying Chiswick’ and her bogus use of the lobbying group Taskforce Chiswick which purports to represent local traders despite the fact she is it’s only member, raises serious questions about her conduct as a councillor.

It has become only too apparent that Biddolph is abusing her role as a public servant by using it as a platform to exclusively represent her own views and try to prevent any local initiative, regardless of the proposals merits or popularity, and to intervene with a completely inappropriate level of micro-interference.  She has certainly made no attempt of any kind to canvas what the majority views might be on any of the issues she has so vitriolically and energetically opposed.  Not only did she override our members vote, but she has never made any attempt to contact the Friends of TG committee and she doesn’t even consult with her fellow ward councillors since Ron is pro cherry trees.  Her risible letter on the tree consultation condemns the council for not providing dimensions for scores of proposed trees, not consulting with Kew’s rare tree experts and not analysing historic documents to discover earlier plantings etc etc. Furthermore, she has subverted the whole process by voting four times, an illegal and foolish action entirely consistent with her general approach.  Her demands are no more than obfuscation designed to further delay and derail the urgent need for more trees to be planted.

In doing so, not only is she showing total contempt for local democracy, but also for the fact that we are facing a climate crisis and that trees are the best form of carbon capture known to man. The vast majority of locals enthusiastically support the council’s borough-wide planting schemes designed to constructively contribute to the climate crisis. The voting on the Consultation will almost certainly support this initiative, which is presumably why she has decided to spuriously attempt yet again to subvert a democratic process…

… it seems to me the time is long overdue to confront how poorly we in Chiswick are being served by her self-serving implementation of cancel culture.  She has brought nothing but toxicity to the borough she purports to serve. Officers waste hours of time dealing with her complaints, and residents are beginning to realise that asking her to intervene on their behalf has exactly the opposite effect.

Hounslow council’s website tells us, ‘Councillors represent everyone who lives in the area they are elected into.’ Well apparently not this councillor, who seems to represent only herself and her compulsive need to prevent local initiatives of any kind.

So my request to you is this – can you please help Cllr Chaudhary hold the line on new tree planting on Turnham Green and stop this relentless subversion of local democracy in its tracks?

Best wishes,

Rebecca Frayn

Though I have been chair of Friends of Turnham Green for 15 years now, I write in my personal capacity.

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