A bid to prevent what is believed to be one of the oldest trees in London’s East End from being moved to make way for flats has reached the High Court.
The “veteran black mulberry tree”, which lies in the grounds of the former London Chest Hospital, Bethnal Green, escaped near destruction in 1941, when it was bombed to almost a stump in in an air raid explosion that killed 30 people.
Charring is still visible on the trunk, which is propped up with wooden planks.
But its time could now finally be up, as developers look to move it to make way for nearly 300 luxury flats at the site of the Victorian hospital.
Campaigners say the controversial move might kill the tree, said to be more than 400 years old.
Geoffrey Juden, of the East End Preservation Society, has taken Tower Hamlets Council to court in a bid to quash its decision to grant planning permission for the flats to be built.
The group says it is opposed to plans to “dig up the beloved veteran Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree and partly demolish a listed building”.
According to the group's crowdfunding webpage, it is under the patronage of Dame Judi Dench.
Campaigners say while they understand the “pressing need for genuinely affordable housing” in the area, they also “recognise a responsibility to future generations”.
The council gave permission for the 291-flat development last October, despite the site being inside the Victoria Park Conservation Area and the tree having been under a Tree Protection Order since 1973.
Developer Crest Nicholson initially got a waiver from the council in 2017 to allow it to cut back and dig up the tree to clear the way for the proposed development.
That decision was taken to the High Court and quashed, but as part of new plans submitted since, the council granted permission to relocate the famous black mulberry.
The East End Preservation Society launched a petition to block the tree removal, claiming experts believe it would die if it was moved.
But a report, written by experts for the developer, claimed the tree was not a “veteran tree” – and was more likely to have been planted when the Victorian hospital was opened in 1855.
Juden said: "We understand there is currently a pressing need for genuinely affordable housing in Bethnal Green but we also recognise a responsibility to future generations.
"The pandemic has taught us we must show respect for nature and in future we should avoid building densely crowded housing.
"We want the development to be done in a sensitive and humane way – so that it does not damage the historic Mulberry Tree and the built heritage of the hospital building, blighting the Victoria Park Conservation Area."
A spokeswoman for Crest Nicholson said: “We are committed to delivering a high quality development, including affordable housing, public amenities and environmental improvements for the local community and strongly support the Council’s approach to deliver much needed housing in London.”
Tower Hamlets Council defended agreeing to the development, insisting the tree “would be retained on site in the centre of the main front lawn”.
Juden’s lawyers argue the report “significantly misled” the planning committee by misinterpreting part of the National Planning Policy Framework, “thereby taking into account an immaterial consideration when considering whether there were wholly exceptional reasons for the loss or deterioration of a veteran tree”.
The case continues on Thursday when submissions will be heard from the council and the developer.
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