Plans to fell Hackney’s Happy Man tree reapproved

Campaigners hoping to save the 150-year-old London Plane tree that stands outside the former Happy M

Campaigners hoping to save the 150-year-old London Plane tree that stands outside the former Happy Man pub on Woodberry Grove N4, near the junction with Seven Sisters Road. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Hackney’s Happy Man Tree, a 150-year-old London plane whose planned felling sparked street protests, court injunctions and the vocal opposition of over 25,000 petitioners, is set to be cut down.

This decision came as councillors looked again at plans to build 584 new homes as part of the third phase of the regeneration of the Woodberry Down estate, which will also see 175 new trees planted and 29 tennis courts’ worth of open space.

The proposals were discussed again on September 9 after Hackney’s new Local Plan was adopted by the council, and it attracted over 130 new objections.

Planning committee chair Cllr Vincent Stops said Hackney Council “does not take lightly the loss of trees, but occasionally that will happen”.

“The urban form does move around, and Woodberry Down is clearly one of them,” he said. “It is with a heavy heart that one accepts the loss of that tree, but in the round we will be containing a sustainable community.”

READ MORE: Happy Man Tree Supporters deliver petition and papier-mache axe to Hackney MayorREAD MORE: Hackney protesters ‘occupy’ tree to stop development plans going aheadREAD MORE: Hackney Council granted injunction against tree protestersHoxton’s Cllr Steve Race pointed to a statement in Town Hall documents which states that all trees of amenity value must be retained.

Officers responded these lines should be balanced by other competing interests, pointing out another line of policy which stipulates the loss of non-protected trees would not be supported unless adequate replanting takes place.

The council has accepted the Happy Man is a “healthy, mature specimen with a reasonable projected lifespan of high amenity value in the public realm”, adding that its loss is “regrettable”.

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Anne King, representing the Friends of the Happy Man Tree, said: “The Happy Man Tree has been a cultural reference point for many decades, and in recent months appreciation has grown as it has become a focal point. Incredible stories have been told about memories of the tree and the estate.”

She said there is “inequality” between residents and it is “an issue of social justice”.

“Berkeley Homes may choose to frame the issue as a binary choice between housing and the tree, but most people want both,” she added.

However, developer Berkeley Homes and the council said alternative designs could trigger a 15-month delay to the delivery of new homes.

Dan Massie, development director for Berkeley Homes, said: “A significant amount of time has been spent by partners exploring opportunities to retain the tree, but it was included that none of these options would have resulted in a better scheme design.

He said mitigation for the felling includes 65 additional trees planted, and £175,000 paid towards the greenery in Woodberry Down.

The Hackney Society added an updated objection to the proposals, underlining the new Local Plan’s strictures that all developments must “retain and protect existing trees of amenity value”.

The Happy Man was recently shortlisted for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year 2020 for its “important contribution” to combatting pollution and its role in the community’s collective history.

However, officers argued support expressed for the tree did not amount to “significant historic cultural value”.

Planning officer Catherine Slade said “being an attractive specimen and being held in affection by many people is not the same as having cultural significance such as confers veteran status”.

“For example, other trees on the Tree of the Year shortlist have cultural value by virtue of being associated with historic myths, figures or folklore related to healing and romance. There is nothing comparable in this case,” she said.

The tree will not be felled until the Phase Three application has been approved by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Section 106 agreements with Berkeley are complete.

An independent report submitted with the application found mitigation measures would have a net benefit on biodiversity on the estate.

The application was also supported by residents’ group the Woodberry Down Community Organisation (WDCO).

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “I’m delighted that these plans have been approved, delivering hundreds of genuinely affordable homes for local residents who need them.”

He thanked WDCO, adding: “Hundreds of local council tenants have already benefited from a brand new home at a social rent since our partnership started in 2009, and getting these homes built is vital to help even more families do the same – rather than languishing in poor-quality housing.”