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‘Tunnel’ dug by eco-activists at Highbury Corner protest site

Bailiffs moved in at Dixon Clark Court after months of occupation

09 February, 2021 — By Calum Fraser and Helen Chapman

Dixon Clark Court as bailiffs moved in this morning (Tuesday): ALISON GOSPER 

ACTIVISTS campaigning to stop the council felling trees in Highbury Corner have dug in underground as bailiffs moved in this morning (Tuesday), protesters said.

Enforcers in high-vis jackets and police surrounded the camp at around 6am after a judge granted the council permission to evict the protesters.

Several activists, who have occupied the site since October under the “Save The Trees” banner, were grabbed by the police.

Some of the remaining campaigners are in an “underground tunnel”, it is not known exactly how many, one of the activists told the Tribune.

The council’s project at Dixon Clark Court will see seven mature trees felled to make way for 14 private homes which will fund 25 new social dwellings. It is pledging to plant 13 trees on the site and a further seven nearby in mitigation – as well as another 63 new trees around the borough.

But protesters say it is the mature trees which provide greater health benefits in helping clean the air.

One protester who was evicted from the camp this morning told the Tribune: “The law has chosen private developer interest over the interest of the local community. It also fits in with the even bigger picture which is we are in a climate and ecological emergency.”

The group occupying the tunnel at the HS2 site in Euston Square Gardens helped the group in Highbury Corner with their digging, the Tribune was told.

A council spokeswoman said that a colleague at the site “says he can see one person in a hole”.

One of the protesters said: “It’s been three months. I have been inside (the tunnel) but I don’t know how much I can say about how big it is. It can maintain a few people though and health and safety is a priority. They have enough power packs and batteries for the head torches and food, water, bedding and containers for waste.”

Green councillor for Highbury East Caroline Russell has called on the Town Hall to come up with new ways to fund social housing. She said: “In a borough with a deficiency of access to green space, it is crucial to protect every scrap of green and every mature tree.

“The council frames this as a choice between homes and trees. They are asking the wrong question. It’s not a binary choice. Both are essential. It’s lazy thinking to say ‘we need homes’ let’s build on these trees and the community garden.’

“This eviction looks extreme and mob handed. I hope these bailiffs are listening to expert advice about the safest way to remove the protestors while respecting their right to protest against the tragic loss of yet more green space and mature trees.”

There were around 50 bailiffs and police officers at the site this morning.

Council leader Richard Watts said in a Tweet today [Tuesday]: “There is a housing crisis in Islington that is ruining the lives of thousands of people. Every day as a councillor I get contacted by residents living in appalling conditions. Building new Council homes is an essential part of ending the horrific human scandal of London housing.

“I’m sad we’re having to take the action we are today. We’d hoped to avoid it but the protesters preferred us to spend money on an eviction not even more new trees. It’s regrettable they seem to be more interested in the publicity of conflict than actually increasing tree cover.

“Islington will be carrying on building new Council homes. Every time we have to remove a tree we’ll replace it with many more. Environmental justice and social justice have to go hand-in-hand.”

Islington’s housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said: “Islington Council is committed to delivering decent and genuinely affordable homes for all, and the project at Dixon Clark Court will result in a net gain of 25 desperately needed new council homes for local families currently living in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions. At the same time the project will deliver 63 new trees, an extra 100 square metres of communal garden space for residents, and a number of plantings and landscaping improvements designed to improve biodiversity and address air quality issues.

“The council has done everything we can to avoid taking legal and enforcement action, and had reached an agreement with XR, the initial group of protesters, that they would leave the site voluntarily and the council would use the money we would have spent on legal fees on even more trees – in addition to the 63 we had already planned to replace the 6 being felled. We have given protesters who chose to remain every opportunity to comply with the directions of the court, including additional time. It’s truly disheartening that people who claim to care about both trees and homes have forced an outcome resulting in fewer trees for the borough, significant costs, and further delays to building much-need council homes for local families in desperate need.”

“It’s truly disheartening that people who claim to care about both trees and homes have forced an outcome resulting in fewer trees for the borough, significant costs, and further delays to building much-need council homes for local families in desperate need.”

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