‘Tree-gate’: XR protesters set up ‘home’ in Highbury trees in last ditch attempt to save them
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Protesters have set up “home” in the treetops overlooking Highbury Corner in a last ditch bid to stop them being chopped down to make way for private flats.
The five “tree protectors” from direct action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) have erected “legal warning” notices, normally used by squatters occupying buildings, to state they now consider the seven mature trees in Dixon Clark Court, Canonbury Lane to be their home and they intend to stay.
They claim anyone who “enters the property” without their permission will be committing a criminal offence, and anyone who uses or threatens violence against them could be fined £3,000.
The group of horse chestnuts, sycamores and a Norwegian maple is due to be chopped down tomorrow to make way for a six-storey block of 14 private flats.
This will 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.
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One of the “tree protectors”, Vania, 27, who stayed in a tree last night, told the Gazette they are planing on staying until the council decides to reconsider its plans.
She said: “The government and the council announced a climate emergency but that needs a sense of urgency about it. If your house is on fire you don’t sit around and wait as though it’s all ok - you run for your life and do radical things you wouldn’t have done yesterday. In light of this they should revisit this planning decision.”
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She added: “The coucil has been saying we are against social housing and this is ridiculous - please tell me who is against social housing.
“Our stance is that you can build social housing, but don’t cut the trees because they are the best technology we have to get carbon from the air. If the borough wants to achieve net zero by 2030 they need to keep as many trees as possible. They aren’t taking into consideration that the trees they are going to offset them with will take a long time to grow, and that one mature tree is the equivalent of 10 little saplings.”
The council plans to plant 13 new trees on site in compensation, and a 1.5m high by 1.5m deep hedge as “barrier and screening” from air pollution.
Cllr Caroline Russell from the Green party thanked the group. She said: “They are making clear, with their bodies, the value of trees for biodiversity, for tackling impacts of climate breakdown and for our mental health and well being.
“I can see that Islington Labour are in a bind - they have to find ways to fund essential new homes but chopping mature trees that provide shade, shelter and much needed greening is not the way to do that during a climate and biodiversity emergency.”
A vigil was held on October 4 in memory of Conor McHugh, who died in April. It used a banner he made when he set up the campaign to save the trees.
No trees have yet been felled onsite after the works were delayed during the coronavirus crisis.
The council’s housing chief, Cllr Diarmaid Ward, said: “Demand for council housing massively outstrips supply and far too many families are in increasingly desperate positions. We are doing everything we can to address this very serious problem, including building the 27 new council homes planned at Dixon Clark Court.
“The council does not take the decision to remove trees lightly and we always pledge to replace more trees than are removed.
“In this case, we are planting 63 new trees in the borough to replace those felled, including 13 in Dixon Clark Court.
“This means we will not only replace, but exceed the amount of carbon absorption from the felled trees, as well as providing a species rich hedgerow and landscaping improvements to address particulate pollution and enhance biodiversity.”
Campaigners climbed up the trees already in March to stop a council contractor cutting them down.
Planning permission for the development was given the go-ahead two years ago.
A petition set up by Mr McHugh was signed by 294 people and presented to full council on February 27.