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Friends of the Happy Man Tree presentation at planning committee

This was presented on behalf of Friends of the Happy Man Tree at the Hackney Council Planning Committee on 9 September 2020 by Anne King who is a Woodberry Down resident.

We call on Hackney Council to respect the wishes of local people and retain the tree. It’s not acceptable to be faced with a choice between social housing and this much loved tree. We believe, with commitment, both can be achieved.

Amenity Tree Value of HMT

The Local Plan says, ‘All development proposals must retain and protect existing trees of amenity value - those that have interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally'.

This 150 year old Grade A tree is an amenity tree. It has biological value because it is the only tree of that maturity in that location.

Russell Miller of the Tree Musketeers says it is increasingly difficult to establish London plane trees due to global warming. 1000 trees planted tomorrow would take 10 years to produce the same amount of oxygen as this tree. Tree planting mitigation cannot therefore compensate for the loss of the mature trees. And, many of the young trees already planted on the estate haven’t survived.

Hackney’s recent survey confirms that the tree is healthy, with high amenity value and definite aesthetic value, relating to its location and crown shape. The planning report from April notes that ‘the loss of this specimen... represents substantial harm to biodiversity and the public amenity of the local area.”

Our legal advisor’s statement to the council discusses that the tree was previously acknowledged as a veteran tree. The new report decides that it is not, based on limited evidence and partly because of lack of “long-standing cultural value.”

How would someone visiting the tree for the first time for a short period be able to assess cultural value? We have not been given the time to challenge this report and instruct our own tree expert.

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. We’ve circulated material about the support for the tree and some of the activities that have taken place around it. The tree has even been shortlisted for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year.

Woodberry Down has undergone extensive changes, and community fragmentation has created a profound sense of loss for some longer-term residents. There’s a socio-economic and socio-cultural inequality between many of the residents. Retaining the tree is an issue of social justice as longstanding residents have expressed that they don’t wish to see yet another part of their local heritage removed. It’s a challenge to capture the voices of these residents, who may not access an online planning process, but on the street they are loud and clear.

Berkeley Homes may choose to frame the issue as a binary choice between housing and the tree in their aggressive marketing, but most people want both.

Regrettably, the promised public WDCO meeting was only advertised the day before - on its website - with the effect that only 2 non-board members attended. WDCO has not sought the views of residents across the estate and cannot claim to democratically represent them..

Sustainability issues

Phase 3 contradicts Hackney’s climate emergency declaration and Local plan in another significant way. Berkeley’s energy statement relies on out of date planning approval and emissions policy. They have not calculated CO2 emissions for this huge development. Of particular concern is the proposed gas fuelled CHP energy centre, which is more than ‘unfortunate’ as described in the Addendum report received today.

Hackney’s Sustainability Officer said that a review needs to be undertaken of the CHP technology and that new developments should be future-proof so that zero carbon emissions can be achieved by 2040.

The scheme needs to comply with GLA energy guidance and emerging government guidance away from fossil fuels. Incorporating large heating plants into developments is also now being questioned as the most sustainable option.

This application should not be passed on the basis that a new energy strategy will be submitted, when this could continue to propose the use of fossil fuels, and any progress towards renewables would significantly impact the design of the development. Residents risk being handed a white elephant that will become a burden before too many years have passed.

Alternative Design for Phase 3

We have worked with architects to develop an alternative design for Phase 3 allowing the tree to be retained and the same amount of social and affordable housing to be built. Please refer to the information on the redesign we sent you.

The options for changing the design are limited because the plans have seen a huge 63% increase in density. This has created privacy, daylight and sunlight issues. Our design tries to reduce some of the monolithic facades and create more of a variety of community space.

We acknowledge that a redesign would create some delay but, as Phase 3 is being progressed in two stages, there is scope for delay to be reduced. This redesign would also allow for a review of the energy centre and other sustainability issues that Hackney needs to start addressing straight away.

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