THE felled trees at Purley Beeches will not mean the site is turned into a housing development, despite fears.
The mature trees were cut down in April after experts discovered they were riddled with disease. Many residents are dismayed at the devastation.
At a Sanderstead Residents' Association meeting on May 1, fears were voiced that the land had been cleared to make way for a housing development.
Councillor Tim Pollard assured locals that this was not the case, saying: "There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that this work is all about clearing the way for a housing development.
"Purley Beeches is protected in our planning policies and there is no prospect at all of that changing.
Locals also expressed suspicions that the trees were not diseased enough to actually need felling. However, Croydon Council's trees and woodland manager, Nigel Browning, has insisted the beeches were "hazardous" to the public, although this was not obvious to the "untrained eye".
In a letter copied to Cllr Pollard, the tree expert said: "We are as upset as you are to fell these trees. However, the trees were not felled simply because they were over mature. They were felled because they were found to be hazardous."
The trees were found to have Kretzschmaria deusta, a fungus which causes the trunks and branches to snap.
Mr Browning said the disease was a "particularly dangerous decay fungus" which often gives "no warning" of when a tree might collapse.
"As a landowner we have a clear duty of care and simply cannot ignore trees that we find to be hazardous, especially in an areas such as Purley Beeches, which are both heavily used by the public and surrounded by residential properties," he added.
The tree expert said the felling had been particularly noticeable because the wood had been significantly thinned ever since the 1987 hurricane.
Although several hundred new trees had been planted, many of them had been "ravaged by grey squirrels", prompting experts to think "the only long term answer to this problem is to cull all the squirrels from the site which, again, is a very emotive issue for the public".
Despite this, Mr Browning explained Purley Beeches had since become "improved ecologically as there is a far greater diversity".
In response to residents' criticisms that the felled trees had been left to lie, Mr Browning said the foliage provided key habitat for further flora and fauna.
Dennis King, chairman of the Sanderstead Residents' Association, said there was a move to set up a Friends of Purley Beeches, in partnership with the nearby Wettern Tree Gardens.
"We will of course, support this as a residents' association," he added.