Housing versus trees and LTNs

Campaign group Save The Trees, whose members have fought against felling the trees at Dixon Clark Co

Save The Trees fought against felling the trees at Dixon Clark Court - Credit: Save The Trees

We need social housing at well as trees, by George!

Sue Lees, Islington Green Party, full address supplied, writes:

The campaign to save the trees at Dixon Clark Court should be viewed with great sadness.   

We should thank the determined and intrepid protestors on the site, as well as many others in the borough, for focussing our attention on the vital need to retain all our sizeable trees for their contribution to our health and to mitigate against the effects of climate change. Islington Council undoubtedly needs to build social housing, but it should never be a choice between trees and open space, on the one hand, and homes, on the other. Islington is one of the borough’s most deficient in access to green space in the country, and residents need every patch they can find for their physical and mental health and well being.

The council must find new ways to finance social housing so that private homes do not have to be squeezed into building schemes to make a project viable financially, which is the issue at Dixon Clark Court. 

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But central government policy is at the root of the problem, with complex rules on use of money from right-to-buy sales, for example, that seem designed to discourage rather than encourage councils. What we need is for government to establish a framework that enables and encourages boroughs like Islington to use their limited available land to build entirely social housing.

I hope that Islington Council will protect mature trees in future and ensure new plans take full account of its declared ambition to combat the climate emergency and do not involve cutting down 50 year old tree-cover  - new saplings, even if they survive,  will not produce equivalent benefits for another 50 years.

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Meg Howarth, Islington, full address supplied, writes: 

Islington council’s claim that further environmental destruction at Highbury Corner is a price worth paying for a maximum of an additional 25 council homes on the existing Dixon Clark Court (DCC) estate - not 27 as spun by the town hall - is both absurd and misleading - but good to see that at least the High Court judges got the figure right (Judge permits Islington Council to evict eco-warriors). 

Unlike the other major geographical junctions in the borough - Angel and Archway - the DCC green screen of trees provides a public-realm service not only to the estate’s residents but also to passers-by. Trees and green aren’t only about environment and climate protection but also public health - physical and mental. With Right to Buy (RtB) income from the sale of some of the additional properties factored into the financial viability of the proposed development, on one estimate in the planning officer’s report as few as 15 additional social homes might remain in a few years time. How can it make sense to destroy the Canonbury Road “little forest” of 53-year-old trees for such little gain? How is 15, or even 25 extra council homes, going to make a real difference to the 14,000-long council waiting-list?

Rather than initiate a borough-wide public debate on housing need, certain elected members have taken to social media to accuse those seeking to save the trees not only of exercising “middle-class” “white privilege” but of being opposed to council housing. In an Orwellian twist, it seems these councillors are unaware that the New Builds housing team is currently advertising for a funding officer with responsibility for “the effective management of external investment within the borough such as RtB receipts”. Let’s be clear: a council home sold under RtB is no longer a council home. Surely it’s time that the 2011 Code of Conduct to which our political bosses are subject be updated to include their behaviour on social media? Meantime a reminder: Orwell lived in nearby Canonbury Square.

Seventeen mature trees have already be lost on Highbury roundabout, and the council has given planning permission to Canonbury Primary School for a plastic “grass” extension to its playground. This is on council land where it was proposed, under an earlier version of the DCC scheme, that a residential block be built. What an assault on nature for the pupils.

Destroying the environmental amenity of both council residents and the public-realm in the most densely populated London borough with the least green space per head outside the City in order to increase its social-housing stock by 25 units doesn’t make any sense, particularly for a local authority that claims to have the interests of its poorer and most vulnerable residents at heart. Islington urgently needs a housing strategy to resolve its 14,000 housing waiting list, not a Tesco “every little helps” approach. This will require radical, imaginative thinking. The DCC tree-protectors have helped focus attention and it’s hoped that Islington will rethink its proposal for Dixon Clark Court, and engage with residents to address the housing situation. 

Eilidh Murray, Islington, full address supplied, writes: 

The silhouette of trees during sunset over Greenwich Park, in London.

Trees have a monetary worth using CAVAT – Capital Asset Valuation of Amenity Trees - Credit: PA

The magnificent 300-year-old tree in St Mary Magdalene Churchyard was recently calculated to be worth £1.6million using a system called CAVAT – Capital Asset Valuation of Amenity Trees – which is used by councils and recognised by courts to protect trees at risk from being cut down. 

There appears to be an increasing hit-list of trees for the chop in Islington. Not only the mature healthy trees at Dixon Clark Court (DCC) but now we see a 70-year-old mulberry tree at the entrance of Park View estate being earmarked for felling - after local residents had assurances that it would be saved. Tree experts estimate that it could live healthily for another 200 years. News of this latest environmental assault only appeared after the courts had pronounced on January 29 that the council could continue with their reoccupation of the DCC site and ultimately, their destruction of the little forest.

But, here’s a thought; based on the formula for the CAVAT for the 300-year-old tree, and putting aside the many benefits the public, at least, already know such as providing shade, carbon storage and mental health, that would make a tree “worth” £5,333 a year, perhaps less when young but increasing as they mature. So the trees at DCC are “worth” £1.6 million and rising. Worth the council pausing for thought.
Where’s the next tree to be sacrificed? Seems like there’s no stopping the council-led arboreal massacre in our borough. 

On the right roads

Andrew Willett, Highbury Hill, Islington, writes:

I am writing to support low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). 

Opponents complain that LTNs infringe their right to drive. What about the right to clean air? Drivers can still drive. I am sorry they (and I also have a car) are inconvenienced. 

However, pedestrians can now walk around much of the borough no longer choking on car fumes. The majority (70 per cent) of Islington residents do not own a car. Clearly more must be done to support those living on main roads. 

The ULEZ in October will be important in that regard. In the meantime the council should be supported for taking a brave and progressive first step to improving the health of all residents.

Sir David Bell, Belitha Villas, Islington, writes:

I absolutely agree with Fiona Dunlop (Gazette letters), having been stuck almost exactly as she was. 
The many minutes mired in traffic surely contributed much more pollution than had I been able to use the ‘previous’ route.

The trade off is much more complex than the council allows and, like Fiona, I care about the environment as much as it does.

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