‘Tree-gate’: Islington Council offers to spend money on planting trees instead of lawyers if XR protesters vacate
PUBLISHED: 17:13 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 19:31 13 October 2020
Picture: Polly Hancock
Islington Council has offered to plant more trees with the money that would be spent evicting protesters from the trees they’ve set up home in - if they agree to come down.
The self-proclaimed “tree protectors” from direct action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) are still deciding whether to vacate the seven matures trees in Dixon Clark Court, Canonbury Lane, which they have been sleeping in since October 4, staking a claim to them using squatters rights.
They were due to be chopped down on October 5 to make way for a six-storey block of 14 private flats which would then subsidise a new community room, landscaping and 27 flats for social rent on the site - although two existing socially-rented properties will be lost, making a net total of 25.
According to planning consent, the council has already pledged to plant 63 new trees to offset the 17 that would be lost by the new development - including 13 on site. They have not said how much would be spent on planting more trees if legal action could be avoided.
The council has not said how much it would spend on planting more trees if it did not have to take legal action.
Council leader Richard Watts wrote to the group last week suggesting XR’s behaviour in opposing the social housing scheme was “at best, misguided and, at worst, immoral”.
“The housing crisis is ruining the lives of families across the borough and building new council housing is a non-negotiable for the council,” he told them.
“While I know you are sincere in your beliefs we’re making a mistake, I hope you accept that we are sincere in believing we’re doing the right thing in continuing this scheme. I suspect we need to accept our differences on this and move on.”
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XR held a people’s assembly on Saturday with 20 people attending at the site and a further 20 online, to decide what to do next, and plans to publish a formal response tomorrow.
A spokesperson said: “We appreciate the council has reached out to us and is engaging with locals because many people feel they haven’t been listened to over many months, but it’s really important we get more clarificaion on these new proposals that aren’t currently in writing anywhere.
“There is a real willingness to work with the council, but we have a lot of questions about what kind of trees they are proposing to plant, where, and who is going to look after them.”
Some people have suggested the new block of flats could be moved a few metres over, to retain the trees - but Mr Watts told the Gazette “there is a naivety about how difficult that would be”.
“It would require a whole new planning permission, and that would require consultation and a whole new architect’s design for the scheme,” he said.
“We are talking about a cost of probably in the hundreds of thousands and a delay of over a year while that got worked through.
“The human cost is 27 families living in sub-standard accommodation, who will not be re-housed as a result of their desire to save seven trees. With 14,000 families on the waiting list we owe it to families in temporary accommodation or in horrifically overcrowded circumstances to crack on with building these homes as quickly as possible.”
He added: “One of the things I’ve found particularly frustrating about this is that the council is genuinely committed to fight the climate emergency, to publish a plan to get to net zero by 2030, and the people-friendly streets scheme clearly underlines our commiment to green issues.
“The couple of people camping out and the small number of people who support them have a choice whether to spend public money on legal bills or trees. I think the truth is the houses will be built.”
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