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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 23 October 2009
Caroline Russell
Caroline Russell
Campaigners in fight to save ‘secret garden’

New battle for green space as consultation begins into plans for 150 homes

CAMPAIGNERS have launched a new battle to save another “precious” open space and wildlife habitat in Islington threatened by the bulldozer.
The latest fight centres on a 140-year-old “secret” garden that is part of a large three-acre complex of buildings formerly belonging to the National Children’s Home at Highbury Park.
A public consultation has been launched over plans to destroy the garden and some of the buildings to make way for 150 new flats and houses.
Islington’s north area committee last week drew fierce criticism from a group of residents after supporting a scheme to rebuild Ashmount junior school on semi-derelict Crouch Hill Recreational ground close to Parkland Walk.
This time the focus is on saving a carefully nurtured private wildlife garden at the back of the NCH complex, which has been described as a “peaceful oasis”.
Campaigners claim that an original planning brief for the scheme approved by the east area committee provided protection for the garden, whereas the current consultation calls for most of it to be concreted over.
Resident Caroline Russell, who is set to stand for the Green Party in Highbury at the local elections next year, said: “Some of the scheme is very good but I’m worried about the loss of the garden. It’s a fantastic mature garden which has evolved over a period of time. I think it must be protected as a local nature reserve.”
The new scheme calls for family homes with private back gardens and a children’s play area in the middle and a pedestrian walkway.
The main building on the site, Loxford House, will include flats and a community nursery.
Campaigners point to nearby Barnsbury Wood and Gillespie Park, which are both large areas of private open space preserved for the public following strong campaigns.
Ms Russell added that she was not against building more homes. “You are never going to satisfy the housing demand, but in the meantime Islington has the least amount of open space after the City of London.”
Not everyone is against the scheme, however. Another local resident, Daily Mirror journalist Matt Kelly, said his gut reaction, bearing in mind there has to be a scheme, was that it “wasn’t too bad”.
He added: “I’d rather there wasn’t a development at all, but the plans appear to be less scary than I thought they would be. It seems to be in keeping with the area. The worries are that the devil may yet be in the detail.”
Action for Children who own the site acknowledged that the current garden area would have to be built on. “The proposals will open up this private and inaccessible land to the local community. The scheme will provide a new 0.4-hectare open space, including a new play area for young children,” a spokesman said.
“The trees along the boundaries will be retained and there will be a new public path between Lucerne Road and Legard Road. In addition, there will be new trees, bird boxes, green roofs, native plant species to increase bio diversity of the area. This is an opportunity to create a high quality development including 140-150 new homes, half of which will be three and four-bed family housing.”
Up to 1,600 local households and businesses were invited to a three day consultation.
A further consultation will be held on November 3 and 4.

Caroline’s crusade Too good to lose

• Barnsbury Wood was originally the garden of St Andrew’s Vicarage, at Huntingdon Street. From the early 20th century the garden was abandoned and became woodland. In 1977 a group of local residents campaigned to save the area from housing development.
In 1981, the Barnsbury Wood Co-operative again fought to save the wood from development, and had it designated for educational purposes. In 1996, the wood was granted Local Nature Reserve status, and is the largest area of woodland in the borough.

• Gillespie Park is former railway sidings which now supports an ecology centre and a diversity of habitats and species. It has twice made headlines for unusual finds, first for the 1987 discovery of a rare hybrid grass and then in 1990 for the first recorded breeding of the long-tailed blue butterfly in the UK. It was awarded a Green Flag for 2006/7.

• Mother of three, Caroline Russell is Chairwoman of Islington Living Streets and campaigns on local, environment and sustainable transport issues. She has lived in Highbury for 17 years and is standing for election for the Green Party in May in Highbury West ward.

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Your comments:

I find it incredible that a beautiful green space such as this should be considered for development of housing. The public consultation that has taken place has only asked 'what should be built here?' rather than focussing on how this fantastic space could be used to improve the quality of life for residents of the borough, a stated aim of the council's Local Development Framework (LDF).
M. Lydon

I fully agree with Caroline Russell.I also am a resident bordering 85 Highbury Park N5Childrens Home and don't want to loose that magnificent piece of green space.
G. Ravagni

ISLINGTON is a busy, overcrowded borough that I have resided in, all my life. I live adjacent to the NCH and my garden backs on to the overgrown rambling bit of the grounds in the far corner, overhung by trees and Ivy. It's beautiful! Amazingly peaceful and very quiet. There is a fantastic array of birdlife living in our little secret corner of Islington. Magpies, Blackbirds, Robins, Starlings and Thrushes happily chirp from the trees and bushes that surround us. Why on earth would any self respecting human being want to concrete this oasis over is completely beyond me. Islington Council talks hypocritically about Green Living whilst getting ready to sell off yet another piece of open space in the name of profit. There is a lovely ambience in this area that "redevelopment" (what a joke) will undoubtedly destroy with it's build by numbers, flat pack housing that already is an eyesore at the old stadium.
JL. Anderson

THE garden has taken years to develop and once it is gone, it is gone. It should be preserved. When they tore down the old St. John's church some 25 years ago, they promised to keep the numerous trees. Only one was kept and it is pruned to a shadow. There is two much concrete in Islington now and all the rain which the current green area soaks up will add to the flooding problems further down the hill towards Finsbury Park.
P. Refig

ISLINGTON Council is big on green rhetoric and dismal on putting that into practice. It would be criminal to concrete that garden. There is SO little green breathing space in Islington.
Sheila Dillon


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