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‘Tree-gate’: Islington Council takes High Court action to evict Highbury Corner protesters

PUBLISHED: 14:41 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 14:58 12 November 2020

The group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The Trees

The group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The Trees

Save The Trees

Islington Council is taking High Court action this afternoon against climate activists who have claimed squatters’ rights to save the trees at Highbury Corner, to try to evict them.

The group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The TreesThe group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The Trees

The council wants to fell seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court to build a block of 14 private flats in their place, to finance building 27 flats for social rent elsewhere on the site off Canonbury Road.

A decision is expected to be made later today whether the protesters - who want the council to build on one of the council’s brown field sites intead - must go.

Campaigners from the direct-action group Extinction Rebellion had been sleeping in the trees until two weeks ago, but when they left a group called Save The Trees took their place and have built wooden shelters in which to sleep overnight.
The council is making a claim for property repossession against “persons unknown”.

In a statement to court, Robert Phillips, project manager for the council’s new build team, said: “This is a busy transport gyratory and the council is concerned the activities of the defendants, which includes the placing of large banners and the construction of adhoc shelters, may distract motorists and passing members of public, including school children from nearby Canonbury Primary School.

The group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The TreesThe group Save The Trees are asking the council not to chop down the seven mature trees at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Save The Trees

“There is a risk that the shelters could pose a serious danger to the protesters, local residents and pedestrians, should they either catch fire or collapse.”

He claims Camden and Islington emergency planners have raised concerns about a link between Save The Trees, a group set up one year ago to save the trees at Dixon Clark Court, and HS2 protesters at Euston station.

Mr Phillips cites Insp Paul Clarke from the Met who apparently raised concerns that “the longer the situation is allowed to continue, the more entrenched the trespassers may become and the greater risk of more people joining the camp, leading to greater risks to the protesters and the general public

A barrister will act as a McKenzie friend to Larch Maxey, who will represent Save The Trees as a litigant-in-person in court this afternoon.

Dr Maxey told the Gazette Save The Trees’ protest is in line with the council’s policies on achieving net zero carbon by 2030, established by its declaration of a climate emergency.

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“Unfortunately what the council is trying to do with this court case is “business as usual”, and we need them to step up to the bigger challenge and do things differently,” he said.

“I’m a scientist and I’ve been following the science for 35 years.

“It’s my life’s passion, and the science is now clear and we are in the gravest danger peril, and the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, with a climate and ecological emergency.

“The council has declared and acknowledged the climate emergency and we all need to pull together in this most perilous situation to do our bit to address the risk of societal collapse.”

He continued: “Protecting these trees, and supporting the council to honour its commitment to keep us safe in the climate emergency, is a line in the sand that we have to stop business as usual.

“It’s absolutely clear the council has the power to simply execute the contract variation clause, and say to its contractor Higgins ‘Don’t build this unit on these trees. Do not fell these trees and build on this green open space’ - and that’s what we are asking them to do. Simply to vary the contract and to develop sustainable housing on one of the 84 brownfield sites they own.”

READ MORE: ‘Tree-gate’: Islington Council offers to spend money on planting trees instead of lawyers if XR protesters vacate

In a statement to court, Cllr Caroline Russell of the Green Party, said: “These principled campaigners are protesting to ensure that these seven 50-year-old trees, just reaching maturity, are able to flourish and continue to grow over the years ahead.

“The trees have just reached the size where they can begin to make a material difference supplying shade to mitigate the health impacts of the urban heat island effect, the risk of which will only worsen with warmer summers due to climate breakdown.

“Saplings offered by the Council to offset the loss of the seven trees will have to grow for 50 years before they reach the scale and maturity of the Dixon Clark Court trees.”

The council’s housing chief, Cllr Diarmaid Ward said the council was “very reluctantly” taking the matter to court.
“This is despite doing everything we can to avoid legal action, including offering to spend the money we would have spent on legal fees on even more trees,” he said.

“The council does not take the decision to remove trees lightly but demand for council housing massively outstrips supply, and we owe it to those families who are living in increasingly desperate positions to build these new council homes.”


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