’Tree-gate’: Islington Council accused of ‘bad faith’ after Green councillor loses chance to challenge Higgins deal

Campaign group Save The Trees, whose members have fought against felling the trees at Dixon Clark Co

Campaign group Save The Trees, whose members have fought against felling the trees at Dixon Clark Court for the past year, are now on site protecting them 24/7. Picture: Save The Trees - Credit: Save The Trees

Islington Council only sealed the £14.7m deal to build flats on top of the trees at Highbury Corner three weeks after protesters claimed squatters’ rights to them - meaning the decision could have been called in for review that whole time to see if they could have been saved.

According Cllr Caroline Russell of the Green Party, council representatives told protesters from the non-violent direct action group Extinction Rebellion that thousands of pounds would be lost through penalty clauses if the development to build a six-storey block of 14 private flats at Dixon Clark Court did not go ahead.

Eco-campaigners from XR had been sleeping in the seven mature trees since October 5 to try to save them.

They vacated the site three weeks later after coming to an agreement the council would plant 20 more trees on top of the 43 already agreed as compensation, rather than spend money on legal fees evicting them.

But although the council signed a £674,000 pre-construction agreement when the development was granted planning permission in 2018, the key decision to sign off the £14.7m contract with contractor Higgins Partnerships was not made until October 16, and could have been challenged until October 23.

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The council says it sent an email to all councillors notifying them the decision was due to be made.

But Cllr Russell was not aware - and although she was in correspondence with the council about the development, she was not personally notified she could call-in the controversial decision until after the expiry date.

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Had she known, she would have tried to muster the support of five other councillors necessary to bring the development back for scrutiny by councillors to decide if it could be redesigned to avoid chopping down the trees.

Cllr Russell told the Gazette: “What is distressing is that the council were persuading people out of the trees on the basis they were going to lose a lot of money given they were already in a contract. In fact the contract hadn’t formally been signed off.

“They weren’t negotiating in good faith, and that just destroys trust. It leaves a bad taste and it is really disappointing. “Residents deserve better.”

A spokesperson for the council said it would be “incorrect and inaccurate” to claim anyone has been misled.

The correct procedure and relevant legislation had been followed, they said, and all councillors were sent an email on October 8, a week before the key decision was taken on October 16, and advised they could call it in until 5pm five days later.

A spokesperson for the council pointed out that the contract award dates are also available for public view on the council’s website.

The first stage of the contract sees the developer working with the council’s team to develop drawings and the works plan, they said, before submitting a price which the council assesses for overall value for money.

The council’s time to agree the second part of the contract and to provide possession of the site to carry out works is limited, and if delays occur there is a risk the main contractor and sub-contractors could increase the price. Campaigners from Save The Trees, whose members have been campaigning for the past year to stop the felling, took control of the site straight away and remain in deadlock with the council.

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