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Plaque remembers Highbury Corner tree campaigner

Environmental activists continue to live in protest camp as council tries to resolve stand-off

16 October, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Campaigners in Highbury Corner this week 

A plaque is to commemorate a man who started a resolute campaign to save trees from being chopped down in Highbury.

Conor McHugh, who died in April aged 73, had spearheaded efforts to protect a group of trees at Dixon Clark Court.

Islington says it needs to clear them as part of a project to create 41 new homes, two thirds of which will be provided at social rent rates.

But with the trees due to come down at any moment, Islington members of Extinction Rebellion (XR) have camped out in and around them and yesterday (Thursday) the council was seeking to bring an end to the occupation by expanding its offer to plant new ones.

Mr McHugh’s wife Brenda said: “What we wanted, in the spirit of Conor, is to remind people, in all the chaos of everything, the global impact of trees being felled.

“The message that Conor had was that people need homes and they need trees, and we shouldn’t be polarising the need for social housing versus what land is available.”

The ancient chestnuts, sycamores and a Norwegian maple had been due for the chop last Tuesday but were still left untouched last night.

The Town Hall is now offering to plant 100 new trees across the borough, having originally promised 63.

It is ready to start building work on the site. Vania Flaccomio, an Islington XR member, has been camping in Dixon Clark Court.

She said: “We want to see more clear communication and collaboration with the people and with the community.

“We know it is difficult and they are both urgent crises but it is better to do it as a community.

“The consultation they held before was difficult to understand. We want more clarity and more trust in what the people want.”

When the Tribune visited the site yesterday (Thursday) some children from Canonbury Primary School stopped by to play in the XR campsite.

Ms Flaccomio said the activists held drawing workshops and activities for children earlier in the week.

Islington Council leader, Councillor Richard Watts, said: “I have reached out to them to see if there is a way to avoid taking legal action. We are pleased they have responded positively.

“I am sympathetic to the case XR are making. There is a climate emergency and we want to work constructively with groups highlighting the environmental crisis.”

He added: “I think there is a lack of understanding from some XR activists of the true scale of the housing crisis Islington faces.

“I would much prefer to spend council money on planting trees than on lawyers and bailiffs to get rid of two campaigners up the trees at the moment.

“We are offering to use the money on planting new trees instead.”

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