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'Secret' garden given a stay of execution

PUBLISHED: 14:02 15 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:11 14 October 2010

GREEN campaigners and Highbury residents (left to right) Katie Dawson, Caroline Russell, Gemma Pavagni, Dr Robert Dourmashkin and Sydnee Dourmashkin  make their feelings known ahead of the planning me

GREEN campaigners and Highbury residents (left to right) Katie Dawson, Caroline Russell, Gemma Pavagni, Dr Robert Dourmashkin and Sydnee Dourmashkin make their feelings known ahead of the planning me

A SECRET garden has been given a stay of execution from developers wanting to build 143 luxury flats in the heart of leafy Highbury. The plans were to bulldoze four historic buildings – none of which are listed – on the site of the UK headquarters of th

The NCH headquarters in Highbury Park

A "SECRET garden" has been given a stay of execution from developers wanting to build 143 luxury flats in the heart of leafy Highbury.

The plans were to bulldoze four historic buildings - none of which are listed - on the site of the UK headquarters of the children's charity NCH in Highbury Park. Only Loxford House, built in the 1850s, would be spared from demolition.

The charity says it needs bigger and more modern premises outside Islington after 80 years in the borough - and that it needs to sell the land to developers to help finance the move.

But around 40 residents have objected - with Islington Green Party, community group Friends of Gillespie Park and the London Wildlife Trust claiming that grassland and woodland on the 1.26 hectare site is teeming with wildlife.

Caroline Russell, of Islington Green Party, said: "The secret garden is irreplaceable and makes a huge contribution to biodiversity in Islington. The gardens and grassland must be preserved for the benefit of future generations."

But despite an Islington Council planning brief stating that any development on the site must ensure that "the mature gardens are preserved in their entirety", it was in fact concerns over housing - and not the environment - that saw a town hall planning committee defer its decision on the future of the scheme for a month. The Labour-dominated panel called on NCH to increase the number of affordable homes within the scheme from 40 to 50 per cent.

Labour councillor Martin Klute also urged NCH to "upgrade" the plans, adding: "I don't think we have the time to go back to the drawing board."

Only Councillor George Allan, the panel's sole Liberal Democrat member, wanted to vote through the plans - fearing a delay could scupper the multi-million pound project. He said: "I think some of the ecological benefits of the site can be exaggerated."

A total of 34 trees would have been felled to make way for the development - including four 30 feet high alders, which shield homes in Lucerne Road from the site.

Matt Kelly, a 41-year-old journalist whose garden backs onto the site, said: "It's purely to cash in and as a charity they're looking to maximise the revenue for the site. This is one of the few green spaces we've got left in Highbury."

In March, NCH's chief executive, Dame Clare Tickell, said the scheme would "make a significant contribution to meeting the borough's family housing needs and increasing the amount of public open space in Highbury".


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