Campaigners plan fresh legal challenge against felling Tree of the Year

The Happy Man Tree. Pic: Lauren Sneath

The dispute surrounding the felling of the Happy Man Tree in Woodberry Down continues to divide the community, as campaigners plan a second attempt to halt the project by legal means.

Hackney Council wants to cut down the tree as part of a development plan for almost 600 new homes. The felling of the tree is due by the end of the year.

“We are fundraising to explore the possibility of a second legal challenge” said a spokesperson for the ‘Save the Happy Man Tree’ campaign.

“We have a lot of concerns about the process by which the Council and Berkeley Homes have made their decision. We particularly feel that the value of the tree to the local community has been disregarded.”

The council has not been swayed by the recent announcement of the Happy Man Tree as England’s Tree of the Year by the Woodland Trust. The tree won the title by an overwhelming number of votes.

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney told Eastlondonlines the removal of the tree was “necessary to ensure that we can continue with our plans to deliver 584 much-needed homes.”

“This was never an easy decision, however it was the only way to avoid huge delays to desperately needed new homes and a complete redesign of the project,” he said. 

“We look forward to working with Berkeley Homes, the Woodberry Down Community Organisation and the local community to provide a much greater investment in trees, open spaces and green infrastructure and continuing to champion the environment across the estate and Hackney.” 

The project has been plagued by controversy since its inception, when a petition was launched to protect the 150 year-old plane tree by an association called Friends of the Happy Man Tree. The petition currently has over 27,000 signatures.

The group of local residents launched a legal challenge to prevent the tree from being cut down in spring this year, and has crowdfunded to cover its legal costs. In May, the group began a 24 hour watch on the tree, camping overnight at the site.

 However, according to the group’s online blog, they were met by “hurdles and frustration” as the council re-approved the felling of the tree at a meeting on September 9.

“The council’s decision-making around the Happy Man Tree fails to live up to its 2019 climate emergency declaration and its policy in support of amenity trees” the blog said on October 22. 

“It sought to diminish the amenity and cultural relevance of the Happy Man Tree and chose to use a narrow and elitist definition of cultural value that undermines the importance that the Happy Man Tree holds for the community.”

The approval of the felling “was a poor decision”, according to Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust. 

“The developer has admitted that the tree could have stayed if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process” said Cormack. 

“They said they always look at environmental value, and would have chosen a different design if they’d known how much the tree was valued.”

Paul Wood, author of ‘London is a Forest’ is holding an event to raise funds for the ongoing legal battle to save the tree. Wood told ELL: “One of the defining features of London is the towering Victorian London plane trees that grace thoroughfares throughout the city.” 

“I find it unfathomable why a developer like Berkeley Homes, who have been instrumental in developing Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve, should want to tarnish their environmental record by felling the iconic Happy Man Tree.” he added.

@SneathLauren

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