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’Tree-gate’: XR protestors vacate Highbury Corner trees - but Islington Council’s plans to axe them are thwarted yet again

PUBLISHED: 15:33 26 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:54 27 October 2020

Tree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly Hancock

Tree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters have vacated Highbury Corner where they had set up home in the treetops for the past three weeks - but Islington Council’s plans to chop them down to make way for a block of flats have been thwarted yet again after another protest group took their place.

Tree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly HancockTree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Tree protectors” from direct action environmental campaign group XR had claimed squatters’ rights to seven mature trees in Canonbury Lane’s Dixon Clark Court since October 4.

They were sleeping in the foliage in a bid to stop the trees being chopped down and the site turned into a six-storey block of 14 private flats.

The council’s development would also include 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.

However, XR made a deal with Islington Council to say any money earmarked to finance the protester’s eviction would be used to plant more trees instead, and it held a “leaving ceremony” at the site on October 25.

Tree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly HancockTree protectors perform a ceremony as they leave the tree camp outside Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Polly Hancock

A spokesperson said the event was “filled with evocative words, group singing - and stomping to keep warm - reflecting on our time together, what we have gained and what we are prepared to lose, with space to grieve and share”.

But as soon as XR fully vacated the site, Save the Trees campaigners moved in and built a shelter in the early hours.

Save The Trees, whose members have been campaigning for the past year to stop the felling, have built a make-shift hut at the site, and are determined to also use squatter’s rights to stay put.

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“It has all moved very quickly,” said a spokesperson for the group.

She added: “I was surprised by the support this morning from local residents and passers-by, both on foot and on the road.

“These trees are very important and it seems people are much more aware of the climate emergency we are all facing and that it is wrong to destroy seven mature trees in a dense urban environment.

“We need to get this message across to the council - the council that declared a climate emergency in 2019.”

The council development was granted planning consent in 2018, but last year the council declared a climate emergency and Save The Trees thinks the plans should now be reviewed.

It has still “not properly considered alternatives that would save the important natural space,” the group says.

The Gazette asked the council if it will still honour its deal with XR, but has not yet had a response.

Council leader Richard Watts told the Gazette last week “there is a naivety about how difficult it would be” to move the development over a few metres to save the trees, and that it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“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 said.


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