Gazette letters: Coronavirus - prison officers, building sites, Dixon Clark Court trees and lockdown poety

Trees threatened with felling by Islington Council to make way for flats at Dixon Clark Court. Pictu

Trees threatened with felling by Islington Council to make way for flats at Dixon Clark Court. Picture: Alex Hofford - Credit: Archant

It is heartening to hear that staff in care homes are among those formally recognised for their essential work in the current crisis, writes Caroline Joy, member of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Pentonville.

Prison staff are also in the front line tackling the effects of Covid-19. HMP Pentonville houses over 1,000 men in cramped and insanitary conditions, with immense practical impediments to effectively isolating prisoners who are unwell. Two members of staff have tragically lost their lives to the virus, and many others are unwell or self-isolating.

Essential workers are rightly applauded, but we must include the heroic efforts of prison staff who continue to come to work and strive tirelessly to care for prisoners who are frustrated and frightened, and many of whom are unwell.

Reports from Pentonville are of staff working flexibly to cover the absence of their colleagues; adapting to the loss of opportunity for education and collective worship by bringing materials to prisoners’ cells; maintaining contact with anxious relatives and offering individual pastoral support to prisoners and fellow members of staff. All of this at personal risk.

This deserves public recognition.

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Islington Residents: Noah Ashford, Patrik Bodo, Jonathan Bowers, Natasha Bowers, Maggie Butcher, Neil Calver, Joy Chamberlin, Louise Coffey, Kate Constable, Daniel Cumpsty, Marie Demetriou, Anne Durkin, Helena Farstad, Alison FinlayVania Flaccomio, Alex Forshaw, Anita Frizzarin, Sabine Gerth, Canonbury Primary School parent - Alison Gosper, Canonbury Primary School parent - Ben Griffith, Adam Hardy, Andrew Hawkins, Alex Hofford, Tess Holden, Dan Holliday, Meg Howarth, Sophie Hulme, Alex Jelly, Kathleen Leedham-Green, Sabine Leitner, Hamish McRae, Roger Mears, Eilidh Murray, Angela Neustatter, Jim Pang, Alexander Payne, Mike Priaulx, Mary Rice, Elise Rosen, Julian Scott, Joanie Speers, Ted Swift, Agnes Treplin, Tory Turk, Julia Vellacott and Teresa Wells; and Islington organisations Compton Terrace Garden Committee, Extinction Rebellion Islington, Islington Archaeology and History Society, Islington Clean Air Parents, Islington Gardeners, Islington Society, Inspiring Sustainable Islington, Islington Swifts, Islington Wildlife Group and Upper Street Association, write:

We are a group of concerned citizens and environmental and social organisations from Islington and are writing to you regarding the seven ecologically important and mature Dixon Clark Court (DCC) trees on Canonbury Road at Highbury Corner.

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We were shocked to learn that a family of nesting blackbirds, including two juveniles, was disturbed by contractors clearcutting the communal garden enjoyed by social housing residents during the commencement of tree works at the site. This happened before work on the mature trees could begin.

The work was thankfully halted due to coronavirus social distancing. A wildlife crime officer with the Metropolitan Police highlighted to us that the United Kingdom’s bird nesting season runs from March to July each year. Disturbing birds during this critical time is a crime under the United Kingdom’s Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. As such, Islington Council may have committed a wildlife crime. The seven trees and the birds that live in and amongst them are cherished by council residents of the area, as well as by the children of Canonbury Primary School.

Not only do these healthy sycamore, chestnut and Norwegian maple trees support a rich biodiversity of plants, insects and birds, they also help remove pollution from the air for residents and school children.

Islington Council recently opened its proposed Biodiversity Action Plan to public comment. Paragraph 1.3.2 clearly states that “exposure to the natural environment has a beneficial impact on young people’s physical, mental and social development. Contact with nature has been shown to improve children’s concentration, confidence and behaviour. In 2016, Natural England published a report containing evidence that a greater amount of natural spaces in or around the learning environment (eg the school) is associated with better emotional, behavioural and l earning processes and outcomes”. In this regard, we hope that Islington Council will heed its own words and spare the seven trees at Dixon Clark Court.

Last year the council declared a climate and ecological emergency, for which it is to be commended. Yet to date, pleas with the executive to save the trees on climate and ecological grounds have fallen on deaf ears. Saving trees in north London should be a no-brainer, and yet the council’s ‘business as usual’ response has been to dig in its heels, committing to carry out the tree removal work later on this year.

Our beautiful trees act as a carbon sink for Islington. This helps our borough remain on target for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030, for which it has pledged. The council is already an emitter of carbon dioxide and so felling the seven trees would take the council one step away from becoming carbon neutral.

We also believe that the council is, from an aesthetic-environmental perspective, making a grave error in allowing the development, particularly with respect to the private block abutting the roundabout. Having substantially reduced the size of the green reservation and tree cover within the roundabout to effect the controversial 2018/19 redevelopment, the removal of a further seven mature trees on an adjacent site would amount to a disaster for the whole Highbury Corner landscaping. With no overspill of wooded space that is currently provided by the mature trees on the Dixon Clark Court site Islington will be left with the shrunken green roundabout reservation, walled in by concrete and traffic. The environmental conditions have changed with the roundabout redevelopment. By ignoring this the council will inflict an irreversible loss on the public.

The council has shown that it can act quickly and responsibly in an emergency situation, as it is doing during the coronavirus public health crisis. In light of this, and if our elected politicians truly believe that we are, as they have themselves declared, in an emergency situation, all Islington trees – including the seven at Highbury Corner – should be spared. Not just for carbon capture purposes, but for the respiratory and mental health of the borough’s inhabitants, both young and old. Now more than ever we see the value of nature, particularly in these troubled and constrained days.

It’s not too late for a U-turn on this. It’s better to admit a mistake and correct it than to persist on a mistaken course of action that will mean permanent damage to the environment and a great loss to local residents and their children.

My daughter is an NHS nurse working night shifts in a local hospital and it is really important for her to sleep in the day to be ready for her next shift – she has been on the frontline and the work has been both mentally and physically exhausting, writes an Islington resident, full name and address supplied.

Unfortunately our flat on Goswell Road is opposite a building, Century Link where construction work has been going on since the start of lock down by a company called Willmott Dixon.

The noise starts at 8am, there have been cranes operating the whole day as well as constant drilling and rubble coming down shoots. It really is impossible to sleep through the noise – vehicles coming back and forward and workers shouting. I know many local residents have complained as so many people are either on shifts, like my daughter, or working from home or home schooling children.

All complaints are told that this is ‘essential’ work approved by the government and basically we all just have to put up with it.

It also seems very risky that the construction workers arrive via public transport and we see them daily not observing social distancing on the site (impossible with this type of work) which makes me worry about their safety. These workers also use our local shop.

My main concern is for my daughter and her health but this situation is making a difficult time even more stressful and I’m really not sure why Century Link can’t pause the work in the interests of safety and the wellbeing of local residents, their neighbours as well as protecting our NHS?

Walter Roberts, Brecknock Road Estate, Islington, writes:

Evening shadows find me drawn to the town where I was born

As in solitude I roam, through streets that now look all forlorn

Memory takes a nostalgic stroll down a lane that is well worn

To people and to places, seeped in sepia tinged monochrome

Like a reverie that fades as its never etched in stone

Or a melody that haunts in a melancholic tone

Like a softly beating heart that heaves its final moan

To a long forgotten track on a distant saxophone

Yes they’ll linger on and on till the day that I’ll be gone

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