Gardens under threat in Olympic clean up

Plans to clear up railway sidings in time for the Olympics have sparked fears residents’ gardens could be “trashed”.

Residents in St Paul’s Road, Highbury, are concerned that their beloved gardens, which they lease from Network Rail (NR), will be destroyed when the organisation carries out work to re-profile the banks leading down to the rails.

The company said the focus of the project is to clear rubbish, but it will terminate the leases to do so and there are fears that it will also raise rent when it comes to renewing the agreements.

At the same time, NR are contesting the conservation status of the Drayton Park Nature Reserve, Highbury, also next to the line, claiming it is only of cosmetic importance.

It’s the second time the designated site of Importance to Nature Conservation (SINC), has come under threat – last summer the felling of trees by NR was branded a “biodiversity massacre” by residents.

Islington’s Lib Dem opposition has now stepped in to support legal action against the work and has complained to the government’s planning inspector.

Local resident Pat Tuson said: “We understand that NR plans to build an electricity sub-station on the site if they mange to remove the conservation status, and we are horrified. It has been a protected area for decades.”

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Cllr John Gilbert, representing Highbury East ward, said: “This has been ongoing for two or three years, and we see this plan to chop the vegetation down as another example of them not caring about the wildlife in the nature reserve.

“If they are just talking about removing rubbish that is fine, but if they are talking about another slash and burn operation like the one a year or so ago, that is not fine.”

Last week officials from NR met residents to allay fears of invasive work to their gardens.

Emma Dixon, from the Islington Green Party, who attended the meeting, said: “Some of these gardens have been leased for 60 years or more. Quite suddenly NR have said they are terminating the leases to get rid of what they call fly-tipping, although the land they are talking about is actually quite green and pleasant and full of trees and shrubs.

“They could end up trashing people’s gardens – and then putting the rent up.”

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “Following last Thursday’s meeting, we are going to remove the flytipping. Once this is done, we will be able to assess the ground conditions and decide what further work is required. Another public meeting will be held to discuss the next phase of the works.”