Islington Council backtracks on promise to save mulberry tree

The mulberry tree on the Park View Estate off Collins Road, that Islington Council wants to chop down to make way for flats

The mulberry tree on the Park View Estate off Collins Road, that Islington Council wants to chop down to make way for flats - Credit: Submitted

Campaigners who won a battle to save a 70-year-old mulberry tree on a Highbury estate have been told by Islington Council if they had mounted a campaign three years ago they might have been able to save it - but they did, and it was successful. 

In 2018 the council promised to protect the 10m-high tree in its plans to build 38 new flats on the Park View Estate off Collins Road.

Residents were then shocked to find a notice hammered into the tree in January, warning it would be felled within a month, with council officers claiming it was in terminal decline because of a fungus.

The Ganoderma fungus growing on the mulberry on the Parkview Estate

The Ganoderma fungus growing on the mulberry, which Islington Council claimed would cause the tree to "become structurally unsound and eventually fail" - Credit: Submitted

In February the council put its plans to axe the tree on hold after more than a thousand people signed a petition to save it.

In the meantime, residents stumped up the cash for a report by an independent expert, who concluded it could happily live for another 50 years.

But the council has now put in a planning application to fell it, which will be decided later this month.

At a meeting on Monday, the council's housing chief, Cllr Diarmaid Ward and Jed Young from the council's new build team, told unhappy residents the tree cannot be saved in situ, because it would be too expensive to alter the building plans which are underway. 

The council has already admitted that as the project's design phase progressed it had "become increasingly clear" that cables and pipes would have to run in front of the building near to the tree.

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One resident, Sarah Brakes, told the Gazette: "Diarmaid and Jed said [on Monday] if we had campaigned at the planning stage we probably could have saved the tree, but now they say it's too late as the building work is starting.

"It's a massive injustice.

"We already did campaign to save the tree and saved it."

Green Party Cllr Caroline Russell, who attended the meeting, found the comments "absolutely outrageous".

"I told Cllr Ward in the meeting that residents did campaign to save the tree, and we were told the tree was saved," she said.

"He didn't say anything in response.

"The whole meeting was pretty extraordinary.

"I worked with the residents at Park View when the plans first came forward, and they really fought hard to protect the mulberry tree. 

"We were told the mulberry tree was saved and that was a massive win.

"Residents have been told one thing and another by council officers and by Labour, and it's not a good way to build trust to have such inconsistency in the messaging that's coming through.

"One minute we are told the tree is saved, the next it's got a fungus and it's got to be chopped down, the next minute no it isn't terminally ill but it has got to be chopped down because it's in the way. 

"That's no way to treat a community and people over the past year have come to appreciate every shred and scrap of green space and growing plants in their neighbourhood."

Cllr Russell missed the first 30 minutes of the meeting because she hadn't been invited - despite having requested to attend, and despite the other ward councillor, Sue Lukes, being there.

"The only reason I knew about the meeting on Monday was because residents had told me about it," she said.

"I'd made my availability clear to officers but I had to email everyone in the meeting as it was going on to get access.

"When you have a council with a super majority like we have in Islington, it's downright rude to leave out one of the councillors, who happens to be in one of the parties that's not the ruling group, from a meeting that affects residents in their ward."

When the Gazette approached the council for comment today (May 12) we were asked to delay publication until residents had received a letter updating them on the situation.

We were told "it’s important that we always communicate with residents first, before the press". 

The Gazette has now obtained a copy of the letter, signed by Jed Young, who apologises for "the anxiety caused by the changes to the original planning application".

"Originally we had hoped we could build the new homes and keep the tree," he said.

"However after planning had been granted we carried out root radar surveys and developed the construction plan in greater detail and it became clear that this was not possible."

A plan has now been drawn up to relocate the mulberry tree elsewhere on the estate at "significant cost", but campaigners are concerned the mature tree will not survive the move.

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