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Debate on this beautiful ‘little forest’ must go on

16 October, 2020

Mature trees at Dixon Clark Court

• ATTEMPTING to justify the loss of the Highbury Corner “little forest” of seven mature trees, in a BBC Radio London Vanessa on Air interview, October 9, housing lead councillor Diarmaid Ward claimed the proposed development of Dixon Clark Court (DCC) is to be built “on a poorly used car park” and that “…we consult with the entire borough”.

These weren’t the only “alternative facts” he asserted. His misleading mantra of “27 new council homes” was repeated three times.

While bigging up the extra greening he’s offering to dilute growing opposition to the scheme, Cllr Ward overlooked the large communal garden at the rear of the estate which will be lost if the development goes ahead, but as for who was consulted, the official planning document (para 8.12) is clear: just “296 adjoining and nearby properties in Dixon Clark Estate”, hardly the whole of Islington (pop 236,000), and not even that of St Mary’s ward in which the site sits.

For days now members of Islington Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been sleeping in the trees in an attempt to save them.

The council leader Richard Watts has contacted them, by email – no face-to-face meeting yet: “…if XR is willing to end the camp peacefully I will commit the money we were going to spend on legal processes and removal of the camp to instead be spent on even more new trees in the vicinity of Dixon Clark Court”.

There is another way to resolve the increasingly controversial matter: rerun the 2017/18 consultation. There are a number of reasons why this is desirable…

• It’s unclear whether the 2017 consultation letters mentioned the loss of the “little forest” – the planning application document has no appendix of same – and at least two residents who don’t recall it doing so would have objected at the time but didn’t respond.

• The consultation coincided with that on the huge infrastructure changes at Highbury Corner roundabout; other nearby residents weren’t even aware of the proposals, busy as they were actively participating in discussions regarding changes to the gyratory.

• DCC tenants were repeatedly promised in pre-application meetings that they would get “first dibs” on the site’s new council homes.

How was this not an inducement to secure their backing for the proposal, with no thought of the possible resulting conflict between lucky and unlucky residents should the development proceed? Badly thought through, it certainly isn’t an objective way to consult, rather a recipe for conflict between neighbours.

• The site is of borough-wide significance, sitting as it does at the junction of four main routes into Islington. Even Vanessa Feltz spoke of “a loss to the area” of “the beautiful copse of trees” (see the photo above taken at dawn, October 5, by a ninth-floor DCC resident).

The DDC plan is a bad one, which would produce only an additional 25 council homes. The waiting list is 14,000, we’re told.

The council isn’t Tesco, and “every little helps” an inappropriate means of addressing Islington’s serious housing need. And in the borough with the least green space per head in London.

The XR camp has drawn much-needed attention to the site and the need for a borough-wide public debate on housing. The Town Hall should be grateful for this.

The executive won’t lose face but would gain respect if it halts its decision and reruns the consultation. The outcome would be transparent.

The loss of the “little forest” cannot be undone, so it’s no surprise Islington Labour Environment Forum, at which Cllr Ward spoke, “agreed we should make further representations to councillors” on the DCC scheme at its meeting on October 12.



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