By Jenni Davidson
Seven Dials residents came together last night (Tuesday 12 March) to brainstorm ideas to save a historic elm tree.
Around 60 people attended the public meeting at the West Hill Hall to discuss ways that the tree, at the end of Vernon Terrace, Brighton, could be preserved.
One of the main issues of concern is pedestrian safety if the current pelican crossing on Vernon Terrace is replaced by a zebra crossing.
It is thought the tree could block the view of drivers coming from the roundabout of people stepping into the road behind it.
All the crossings around the Seven Dials roundabout are to be changed to zebra crossings as part of the improvement works to the area.
Millie Ferguson, who started the campaign to save the tree, emphasised that the campaigners do not want to save the tree at the expense of safety.
She said that a safe solution must be found for the crossing that allows the tree to remain.
Among the practical suggestions offered at the meeting were moving the road to the west and widening the pavement around the tree, moving the pedestrian crossing further back from the junction or keeping the current pelican crossing, rather than changing it to a zebra crossing.
The campaign to save the elm tree grew spontaneously from people going to see the tree before it was cut down.
Artist Kate Strachan said she had written the day the tree was due to be felled in her diary.
She went out with pens and paper to have a last look.
Local resident Millie Ferguson stood by the tree asking people to admire it one last time.
“There wasn’t any plan when we started this,” said Ms Strachan.
She said the shift from saying goodbye to fighting to save the tree came as passers by reacted with “shock and surprise” when they found out the tree was to go.
A petition was started and within 48 hours they had gathered 500 signatures.
“We kept running out of paper,” said Ms Ferguson.
“People were actually stopping to ask for a petition to sign.”
At the time of writing, the petition has 1,752 paper signatures and 1,578 online responses.
Some of the campaigners said that they had only realised the tree was to go when they received notice in February of the dates for work to be carried out on the roundabout.
Others only found out what was happening when the campaign to save the tree started.
Although the decision to remove the tree was mentioned at a public meeting in December, it was not included in the public consultation documents on changes to the Seven Dials roundabout.
Another campaigner, Tom Druitt, praised Brighton and Hove City Council’s good intentions in consulting on the improvements, but said the public consultation was flawed in this one area.
“You can’t just add it in at the last minute,” he said.
“Something as important as this needs to be in the consultation.”
Brighton and Hove City Council have agreed not to fell the tree before Friday 15 March.
Supporters have until then to come up with workable suggestions to keep the tree.
The informal campaign has now become a more a more formal organisation, Saveourtree.org, which aims to protect the tree permanently.
The group hopes to persuade the council to refer the decision on the tree’s future back to the council’s Transport Committee for reconsideration.
If that fails, they are exploring other legal avenues for blocking the tree’s removal.
The Vernon Terrace elm tree has been identified as a rare Wheatley elm.
It is one of only a small number of mature trees of this species left in the in the UK.
There are others in Preston Park, Brighton; Peasholm Park, Scarborough and in Edinburgh.
An interfaith tree blessing ceremony will be held at the elm tree tonight (Wednesday 13 March) at 5.30pm.