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Published: 10:20, 23 November 2018
| Updated: 13:21, 23 November 2018
A protester has climbed a tree and is refusing to move to stop it being cut down to make way for a new medical centre.
He has been perched on a branch of the horse chestnut tree since around 7am this morning.
An action group gathered at the site off River Lawn Road in Tonbridge early this morning as tree surgeons were scheduled to arrive for the felling.
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The site is earmarked for a new medical centre which will be constructed by healthcare property developer and investor Assura before being leased to Tonbridge Medical Group.
The campaign group Keep River Lawn Green, which is staging the protest says they accept the need for the new facility but don't think the felling is necessary.
Activist Mark Hood, 50, who is in the tree, has a sign addressed to Assura, which says: "The fate of this tree lies in your hands.
"Have a heart and revise your plans."
The dad-of-two said: “They are going to sacrifice this Chestnut tree - it is the only one they are trying to cut down, but this tree is very special and it’s in a conservation area so it should be protected. I bring my children here to play and collect conkers, we hold an annual conker competition using what we get from this tree. It’s absolutely magnificent.
"It was planted by veterans in 1926 when the council first bought the land. Assura are the only ones who can change the plan. There are four or five of us who will be taking it in turns to sit in the tree, and we won’t be leaving until they confirm they’re going to relent.”
Danny Eisawy, 9, who was attending the protest said: "We’re here to support the tree because it might come down but we want it to stay up so were basically here to protest. you're not allowed to chainsaw within 15 metres of a person that’s why were all around it climbing up.
"It's such a really nice place to come down and it's public. It doesn’t belong to anyone it's just a place for everyone and anyone to go to and relax."
The concerned youngster was joined by his younger brother Jojo, 7, who shared his fond memories of collecting and playing with the conkers.
The company behind the project has responded to the protests saying the move was carefully considered and based on an independent report.
An Assura spokesman said: "At the very earliest stages of this project, we explored with the council planning team and independent experts all possible options for working around the tree and if there had been a solution, we would have supported it – removing a tree is never a decision which is taken lightly.
"The tree has bleeding canker and so there is a high risk of it becoming unstable when foundations are laid for the new medical centre – creating a safety issue for patients, staff and the wider public.
"The council approved its removal based on an independent arboricultural report and after taking their own specialist advice, as detailed in the planning officer’s report. We’re keen to find a new place for the trunk in the community for the future, and are exploring options for this.”
The group has been campaigning to stop the tree being cut down for the last two years and has gathered more than 1,700 members.
A petition which started earlier today with 300 signatures is climbing by the second.
More to follow.