Since the trees came down in May 2013, the residents of Navarino Grove in Hackney have been facing a very real threat. Pentonville Developments, a subsidiary of Fairview New Homes, plans to develop the nearby “brownfield” site into eight four-bedroom houses.
In a city where green spaces are at a premium and councils are coming under increasing pressure to house the ever-expanding population of the capital, the Navarino community are desperate to keep their “corner of Eden”, their “green heart”, in the hands of those who care about it.
Fairview own the land, but a Tree Protection Order was attained by the people of the Grove preventing any further felling of trees or erecting of structures. On that day, Labour councillor Ben Hayhurst made 48 phone calls to the council in a bid to push the TPO through.
ELL met with four spokespeople of the Play Fair With Navarino group, who are campaigning to maintain control of an area where, they claim, the birdsong is louder than in the New Forest on a summer morning. But a land survey found that no “red listed” birds in existence there. Eyewitnesses claiming to have seen house sparrows, barn owls and swallows challenge this notion. The issue of the pond being deemed “sub-optimal” for amphibious life was met with laughter.
It is obvious that residents feel passionately about this plot of land. There is unanimous agreement on the health benefits the trees bring to them and their families. They told me the trees were originally planted to act as both sound and visual barriers to the nearby train tracks running on the Navarino curve. They continually referred to it not as “brownfield”, but as “woodland”: an untamed communal hub where nature can grow, animals can nest and as something permanent in a city whose foot is always on the accelerator.
But the grove does not only offer noise dampening. There is a history here. The area was transformed into allotments during World War II, in an effort to give the community some relief from the woes of rationing in an era when bombs blitzed the city.
The residents have a card to play that could prove crucial in the future of this land. Whilst half of it contains a service tunnel for the Crossrail line that is currently under construction, the other half falls within the Graham Road & Mapledene conservation area which protects everything within its boundaries. One resident had planning permission turned down on these grounds, so their bewilderment that eight new structures could be erected is understandable.
There is no doubt what this grove means to the community: home, tradition, health. It is a cornerstone on which they build and a calming bedrock that no one wants to see vanish, only to be replaced by more bricks and mortar. Should the developers choose once again to try and fell the trees, they will be met with steely resistance. It is yet to be seen if Pentonville will again be defeated or if there will come a day when the trees are finally pulled down.