Hackney Council seeks to remove protestors fighting to save 150-year-old Happy Man Tree
PUBLISHED: 17:15 22 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:15 22 June 2020
Hackney Council has applied for an injunction to remove peaceful protestors living in the 150-year-old Happy Man Tree in Woodberry Down.
About 70 activists have been taking turns to occupy a make-shift tree house in a tree near the Happy Man pub on the Woodberry Down Estate.
They are trying to stop Berkeley Homes felling the plane tree as part of plans to deliver hundreds of homes in a large development project.
Geoff Bell, vice-chair of Woodberry Down Community organisations, has been involved in the campaign to save the tree led by the Happy Man Tree Defenders and said the council’s decision is “shameful.”
He told the Gazette: “The executive of Woodberry Down Community Organisation has, over the last three months repeatedly asked the council and the developers for negotiations on the issue of securing the tree and delivering the regeneration.
“They have refused. Now, instead of negotiation the pair of them answer with bailiffs and threatened injunctions.”
However, the council says its application to the High Court for a possession order and injunction will mean it can continue its work building almost 600 “desperately needed, genuinely affordable homes for local people at Woodberry Down”.
A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “This is a last resort, following months of consultation and meetings with local residents, and the plans being approved by the council’s Planning Committee in April.
“These plans include the planting of 175 new trees, as well as the creation of a new park and public open space equivalent in size to 29 tennis courts. The council is also planting 35,000 new trees across the borough by 2022.
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“We will continue to work closely with local people and their elected representatives on next steps.”
Berkeley Homes added: “[The application] for a possession order and injunction on Woodberry Grove will allow us to remove the London plane tree whilst respecting the safety of the protestors. We will be making no further comment on these proceedings until they conclude.”
A petition to save the tree has reached over 20,000 signatures.
The application for the injunction follows another controversial decision by the council to allow the demolition of Hoxton’s Holborn Studios recently branded “unlawful” by a High Court.
The ruling included a finding that the freedom of expression of residents was “impeded” when the planning committee refused to receive emails detailing concerns about the application from the studios managing director Billy McCartney and his solicitor.
Geoff said the Tree Defenders also sent papers to members of the planning committee to explain further issues surrounding The Happy Man Tree because the time given at the application hearing was limited.
But the papers, Geoff says, were also seen as lobbying and ruled out of order by the committee which stated any committee member who had read the materials would have to be absent from the meeting.
He said: “It now emerges that the recent court judgement in respect of Holborn Studios means advice to the planning committee in respect of our lobbying material was illegal, as was the standard instruction to committee members not to read this in advance.”
He continued: “We now ask that you [Hackney Council], as soon as possible, ask the planning applicant not to proceed with any action involving the Happy Man Tree’s destruction.
“All parties, hopefully including the Planning Committee and ourselves, can then discuss the full ramifications of the recent judgement and how best to proceed.”
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