Sunday, 17 October 2010

Reaction to final planning decision for the former National Children's Home site at 85 Highbury Park from Caroline Allen

Caroline Allen attended the planning meeting last week where Islington Council granted permission for Action for Children to build on the mature gardens at 85 Highbury Park. This is the full text of her letter to the local press:

Having just attended the planning meeting, along with other members of Islington Green Party and local residents, I must write to express our deep disappointment at the decision to approve the development of Action for Children's former National Childrens' Home site at 85 Highbury Park in its current form, in spite of the failures to meet the planning brief.

The plans had been referred back to look at the two areas where the brief had not been met. On the first point regarding the proportion of affordable housing, a 5% increase was achieved, which we welcomed. However there had seemingly been no attempt at all to address the second point, requiring the mature grassland (known as “The Field”) to be retained in its entirety.

Katie Dawson of Islington Green Party was applauded for her passionate speech opposing the plans, reminding us how local campaigns had saved Gillespie Park and Barnsbury Wood from developers and that these were now much loved community green spaces. Could the same not be done for the ancient grassland at NCH? Islington Green Party has campaigned long and hard on this issue, commissioning surveys by the independent bodies London Wildlife Trust and London Natural History Society to examine the land. Experts from both organizations confirmed that the site has great ecological value as an example of pre-urban grassland, and is very rare in Islington, and indeed London. Had it not been privately owned it would be a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and therefore protected from development. This is now lost forever. The proposal to transplant a tiny fragment of the grassland into an artificially landscaped area within the development just shows how little the councillors understand about conservation and biodiversity.

Particularly ludicrous, was the input of Councillor Kelly, who seemed to suggest that any opponents of this scheme did not support affordable housing in Islington. It seems wilfully simple-minded to look at the need for more social housing and the need to protect our green spaces as an “either/or” choice. Would Cllr Kelly like to build affordable housing on Gillespie Park or fell the trees of Barnsbury Wood to provide more social housing? The wonderful opportunity of the NCH site was that it offered ample space to provide housing and preserve this natural treasure for future generations.

Councillors on the planning committee have now established a dangerous precedent: ignore the planning brief on two points and you’ll get away with one; maybe try four and you’ll get away with two. How ironic that in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, Islington Council and Action for Children have chosen to destroy this ecologically rich and irreplaceable natural gem.

Caroline Allen, Islington Green Party

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