‘Symbols of our strength’: Pembury Estate residents furious over Network Rail tree-felling plan

Some of the mature trees that border Pembury Estate. Image: Google

Residents at a Hackney estate are up in arms over Network Rail’s plan to cut down “precious” trees close to their homes.

The railway giant confirmed that five trees were affected by repair and engineering works at the Downs Park Road bridge and tunnel, and it is set to remove four of them and cut back one by the end of February.

After finding out about the plans, residents at the nearby Pembury Estate have pushed back.

They launched the Save Pembury Trees campaign and organised a petition to protect the trees, which include a 100-year-old sycamore that is believed to have survived an air raid during the Second World War.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Even younger trees are at risk. All of these trees hold great significance to the community.

“They are symbols, natural monuments of our strength and resilience. They tell a story and hold our history.”

They said the loss of the trees will increase noise pollution from the railway and nearby roads, air pollution, and the risk of flooding at the estate.

Homes would suffer from “reduced shade during the increasingly sweltering summer heat waves” and reduced privacy, they added.

The condition of the road bridge at the entrance to the Hackney Downs tunnel was such that it needed to be replaced, according to Kate Snowden, head of communication for Network Rail Anglia.

“Unfortunately, five trees on the Pembury Estate are either in the way or have caused damage to the tunnel below and need to be removed, and one cut back, to allow us to excavate the structure so that we can replace it and repair the tunnel,” she continued.

Campaigners said they appreciate that the works are “necessary and important” for safety, but felt they had received “conflicting information” from housing association Peabody and Network Rail, and “very little” information from Hackney Council.

They claim they had no prior communication from Peabody or Network Rail over the felling.

When the work takes place, a temporary footpath is expected to run across the lawn on the estate, close to bedroom and living room windows.

It will cause a “loss of privacy” for those living in the block, said one resident.

Network Rail said it is aware of residents’ concerns over the “loss of trees”.

Snowden added: “We are seeking to minimise the number of trees affected by our work and to agree a re-planting scheme once the work has been completed later this year.”

However, the Pembury resident said Network Rail’s remedy is “not sufficient”.

“Supplanting old, hardwood trees with young, softwood trees or fast-growing saplings is not an adequate solution with respect to our history, biodiversity, health, and the wellbeing of the community.”

They feel residents are being “railroaded”, and said the campaign would “keep pushing ahead”.

“Sometimes we don’t value the most valuable things until they’re gone,” they added.

Snowden said carrying out the repairs now will avoid any unplanned closures of the railway and the road, which would cause “severe disruption to passengers and drivers”.

She said Network Rail has worked “closely” with the council and Peabody for “many months” to keep residents informed.

A spokesperson for Peabody said: “Maintaining green spaces is really important to us and residents and we understand concerns about the removal of trees.

“We know that Network Rail has tried to minimise the number that need to be removed for this essential safety work, and it has committed to planting new trees once the work is complete.

“We appointed an independent surveyor who has assured us that this work is necessary, and we have written to and communicated with residents about this.”

Since its launch on 12 February, the Save Pembury Trees petition has attracted almost 800 signatures.

Cllr Mete Coban MBE, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said: “We are passionate about maintaining the borough’s greenery which has included undertaking the largest urban tree planting schemes with 5,000 new street trees being planted in the last four years.

“This is why, while understanding this is part of important safety work being carried out by Network Rail in the area, we want to ensure that it fits in with our commitment to protect and enhance the borough’s environment.

“We will be writing to Network Rail to raise our concerns and will also highlight those of the residents to see if there is a way of mitigating the issues raised whilst still being able to achieve the same outcomes.”

Updated: this article was amended at 2.17pm on Thursday 22 February 2024 to include a comment from Cllr Mete Coban.