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Highbury Corner protesters climb trees in bid to save ‘little forest’

Trees due to be cut down to make way for private housing block win a temporary reprieve

13 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Protesters took to the ‘little forest’ near Highbury Corner to protest against cutting down the trees

A STAND-OFF between protesters in trees and council-contracted workers paid to cut them down has ended in a temporary reprieve for the threatened “little forest” next to the Highbury Corner junction.

With the trees due to be cut down on Monday morning, a work crew employed by the council turned up at the Dixon Clark Court estate to find three of the trees occupied by protesters, and others guarded from the ground.

The trees are being removed to make room for a private housing block, christened “Treemageddon House”, by angry locals. The council says the private block is essential to paying for the affordable housing aspect of planned works on the site.

But protesters say the private housing block could be built elsewhere, and argue that healthy, mature trees should not be cut down next to Highbury Corner, where pollution levels are already high.

Members of the group said they objected most of all to the fact that the trees are being cleared to make way for private housing, and say they would not be protesting if it were an affordable housing block being built.

For now, the trees appear to be safe, with sources confirming as the Tribune went to press that the work won’t take place this week. Yellow ribbons have been tied to the condemned trees, echoing the campaign to save thousands of mature trees from felling on the streets of Sheffield.

Sabrina Schuller lives in the Dixon Clark Court tower block directly overlooking the trees. She told the Tribune her six-year-old son had cried when he heard about the planned felling.

“He loves plant life and trees. He was crying when he heard what would happen. These trees and this space is so important to him, even though he can’t actually go in and play there because it’s all blocked off.

“He keeps asking why his garden is being taken away.

“The yellow ribbons look beautiful blowing in the wind, but it’s all so desperately sad.”

Ms Schuller’s son has now built a memorial to his “garden” where work has already begun to clear a separate green space on the site.

Oman Ismail, who lives in the same block, said the trees are “incredibly important” to the people who live on the estate.

“These trees are what blocks the pollution out for us,” he said.

“We live on the roundabout, which has now totally changed so a lot more traffic now stops and idles here. And now they’re taking these trees away.

“We need the protection, it’s incredibly important. The reason is to build a private block, which makes it even worse. If there’s any way to stop it then I will try.

“It’s just unfair, especially when we’re trying to solve the climate emergency.”

The protest was mainly organised by Conor McHugh, who lives in nearby Compton Terrace. He called the trees a “jewel on the side of the road”.

He and other protesters were celebrating as the Tribune went to print, with work crews standing down on Thursday.

But, Mr McHugh also confirmed there had been no communication from the council or individual Labour councillors on the issue.

“It’s good that people are concerned about this,” said Mr McHugh.

“And it’s terrific that we’ve won this temporary victory. I hope that it will give everybody time to think about this and find a sensible solution.

“The outside hope is that the council see reason and realise they’re taking away a jewel of a mini forest at the side of a road, where it’s most needed.

“A tall, private block just doesn’t need to go here. It could be integrated into the social housing, but that would lower its value. We think that is a price worth paying to keep this green space next to Highbury Corner.

“We aren’t going to let the council forget about this. We will christen the new block ‘Treemageddon House’.

“If built, it will stand as a monument to their decision to kill these trees.”

Highbury East councillor Caroline Russell, who sits as the borough’s only opposition councillor, said: “The council is right to be building new council homes but at Dixon Clark Court the new private homes are separate from the estate, and will have a separate entrance.

“Islington estates have integrated communities regardless of tenure. This plan breaks that principle.”

In a statement released last week, the council argued its first priority must be to provide social housing, with the development set to deliver 27 council homes.

They also pledged to build a hedge along the western edge of the site, as a barrier against pollution, and promised “additional planting and ventilation measures within the buildings”.

The local authority refused to comment further when asked if the protesters would succeed in forcing a U-turn on the plans.

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