‘Treegate’: Dixon Clark Court protesters commission plaque in honour of campaign founder Conor McHugh
PUBLISHED: 14:20 19 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:29 19 October 2020
Protesters who want to save the “little forest” at Highbury Corner have raised money for a commemorative plaque, in honour of the man who was the driving force behind their campaign.
Conor McHugh, was so incensed that Islington Council planned to chop down the seven mature trees in Dixon Clark Court, that he could see from his bedroom window, that he launched a petition that was signed by 294 people and presented to Islington Council in February.
Conor sadly died in April.
Construction of the council’s development was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown - but the trees were set to be chopped down on October 5 to make way for a six-storey block of 14 private flats to subsidise 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.
But campaigners from the non-violent direct action group Extinction Rebellion claimed squatters rights to the trees the day before, and have been sleeping in them ever since.
Conor’s widow Brenda was presented with the plaque underneath the trees last Wednesday.
Caroline Russell, who attended the ceremony, said: “Seeing Brenda receive the plaque for Conor reminded me of the quietly assertive and powerful speech he made at full council when he presented the community petition to save the trees.
“I remember him putting their possible felling into the context of the climate emergency and asking councillors to pause and think about what would be lost if the trees were gone.
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“I hope councillors remember and take heed of his words.”
The council has offered to plant 63 new trees to replace the 17 set to be axed on site, instead of spending money on legal action to evict the protesters, if they agree to come down.
Council leader Richard Watts claims that to move the scheme - which gained planning permission two years ago - to a different spot to retain the trees would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, as it would require a new architect’s design and to go through the planning process once more.
This would mean 27 families would have to “endure another year of sub-standard accommodation” instead of moving into new homes.
Brenda McHugh told the Gazette: “Conor’s message, apart from that people need homes and trees, was that - in his words - given the climate emergency evidence, “we need to change the water that the decision-makers swim in”.
“By that I understood that expedient solutions for problems faced two years ago can no longer be thought about in the same way.”
She added: “Scientific evidence has moved the framework of thinking, and the climate-change evidence is overwhelming, and we all have a moral duty to find ways of protecting the green lungs of our community.
“Plans for new homes should not be driven by the developers’ needs but with careful planning that is transparent, examined by environmental experts and then monitored. Conor believed in our collective duty to both house and protect the young and vulnerable.”
It is likely the plaque, which reads, ‘In loving memory of Conor McHugh who believed in homes and trees’ will be erected in Compton Terrace Gardens, opposite Conor’s home where he lived with Brenda.
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