The Happy Man Tree

Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the salvation of a 150-year-old plane tree set for felling as part of the next phase of the Woodberry Down Estate regeneration.

The decision to allow developers Berkeley Homes to remove the tree near the former Happy Man pub was made by Hackney Council’s planning committee at the end of April.

Town Hall officers argued that the loss of the tree was unavoidable as its retention would result in “design harm and reduction in affordable housing” at the estate.

However, since the decision, almost 6,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Happy Man Tree to be saved, with campaigners pointing out that a tree protection order was applied for ahead of the decision and criticising the debate over the tree’s future as “confused and ill-informed”.

Woodberry resident Elaine Gosnell said: “I have lived in Woodberry Down all my life with generations of my family contributing to the community here.

“The Happy Man Tree was half its age when the estate was being built, just around the corner from an avenue of trees leading to the Manor House Gate of Finsbury Park. It is on a map of 1870 so perhaps it had come from Hackney’s historic Loddiges nursery, site of the largest hot house in the world.

“Fancy, it graced Woodberry Down when Manor House had a turnpike road. This is the awe, wonder and beauty gifted by a tree at least 150 years old that cannot come from new trees of ‘mixed maturity’.

“How many trees do you know with a name? One would think that a tree called the Happy Man Tree was a gift horse to a developer with or without a PR person worth his salt! If Mr Pidgley [Tony Pidgley, CEO Berkeley Homes] saved it, after all this, the subsequent PR value must be worth it.

“For Berkeley – don’t remove it, reconsider, redesign, regenerate, reap rewards and respect.”

Objectors questioned back in April why a tree preservation order made to safeguard the Happy Man Tree had not been acknowledged, and claimed that widespread consensus had been reached at earlier stages that were the tree to be kept, any loss of homes could be made up for by adding to the height of other blocks.

Part of the recommendation to approve the plans by officers stipulates that, were they to go ahead, the value of the tree would be repaid to compensate for the harm to the community by its loss, calculated at £175,000.

A spokesperson for Berkeley said: “Our proposals, including the removal of this non-protected tree, are consistent with the council’s original 2009 masterplan, revised masterplan in 2014, and planning permission for the phase in 2015.

“The proposals have been thoroughly assessed and approved by the council after 18 months of extensive public consultation, working closely with the local community.

 “This will enable the delivery of 584 much needed new homes, including 243 affordable homes, many of which are for people living in substandard accommodation elsewhere on Woodberry Down.

“In compensation for the loss of the tree we will also be planting 175 new replacement trees within two acres of public open space, increasing biodiversity in the area by over 150 per cent, and paying £175,000 to the council for additional trees in Woodberry Down.”

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