Residents living on the Wornington Green Estate have been campaigning against plans by Catalyst Housing to chop down 42 trees – as we reported previously in this post:
The Wornington Green redevelopment scheme had been given the green light (but only just, by a majority of one) by the RBKC Planning Committee back in 2010.
Over 1000 people – including 160 Wornington Green residents – have signed the petition to save the trees and to call for meaningful consultation over this. Catalyst Housing have said some of the trees will need to be removed in order to build new homes, but campaigners and North Kensington locals , including us, believe the trees to be crucial to the public realm and the environment and to the wellbeing of the local residents.
Aftter New Year, the trees are thankfully still here – well for now anyway.. Last month, some of the residents and campaigners addressed the RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Also there were a couple of representatives from Catalyst present. Here’s what happened:
Keith Stirling, resident of the Wornington Green Estate: “We are in-a very very precarious position In fact regarding the felling of trees, our oxygen and the Ozone Layer. Chopping down trees, doesn’t help. The people of Wornington Green and the wider area need their trees.” He pointed out that the area is deprived of trees and that London plane trees supply the most oxygen. He said that Athlone Gardens was being regenerated as well and that it was a perfect place to transplant the trees – he had looked into it.
Constantine Gras, multimedia community artist and campaigner, who started the petition : “I”ve just heard that Catalyst have been listening to residents – they’ve just posted a newsletter to us. I think they’ve revised their plans to fell 42 trees down to 37″ Well that’s a start….
Constantine said that the Royal Borough “from posh squares to green housing spaces loves its trees and looking at the trees and listening to the birdsong – more so now as we’re stuck at home under Covid-19 restrictions”.
He emphasised the environmental benefits of trees here: “Trees in North Kensington, they really are a matter of life and death – the carbon emissions here are among London’s highest. The RBKC air quality climate change action plan has reported that 7.6% of all deaths in the Royal Borough are attributed to air pollution. Green spaces and trees are vital for filtering out toxic particles, so every tree in the borough, especially these 50 year old mature London plane trees on Wornington Green Estate they will help the borough become carbon neutral in 2040; I believe that is a council commitment”
As a community artist who has worked on social housing estates in North Kensington, Constantine Gras knows that residents really value their trees and green spaces, so he was been shocked to hear over a month ago of Catalyst Housing’s plans to chop down the trees as part of the next phase of redevelopment and that most of the community were unaware of this. “There seemed to be no consultation on this – how is this possible in this day and age? It’s wrong on every level. Just imagine someone walking down Wornington Road and all of a sudden all the trees have been cut down. Is this the type of regeneration that creates a sustainable community? ”
Constantine had looked at the planning applications from Catalyst – about 20 of them, the most recent one was last October – all of which had a tree plan from 2009 attached, which had never been followed and was obviously out of date regarding the information contained – disgraceful.
He questioned the legality of the process as to whether the council would let development be carried out that wasn’t in accordance with the submitted plans and without updated environmental assesssments.
Residents had carried out their own assessments of how many trees had already been lost. In phases 1 and 2a of the redevelopment 55 trees were removed, 10 retained and just 27 new sapling trees were planted with only 8 in the public realm. For the whole of the redevelopment there will be a whopping 167 trees lost – mostly mature trees – and less than half of them will be replaced.
As we said before, we think that Catalyst are partly renaming the estate “Portobello Square” because there will likely be very little “green” left when they are done….
It was stated that as well as the impact of construction and demolition, there will also be new roads – which will increased traffic flow and will have a major environmental impact. Residents expect Catalyst Housing and RBKC to monitor measure and offset the carbon footprint of this redevelopment.
Constantine also pointed out that as Catalyst are worth around £3 billion and half of the new homes are or will be for private sale, that it won’t put too much of a dent in their profits to build fewer private luxury flats. (prices start at £600,000 for a 1 bedroom flat) and put their resources into building an innovative development around the trees. “Just who is benefiting from this regeneration? ”
Fearghal O’Hara from Catalyst Housing, who is a Regeneration Manager for Wornington Green and who is responsible for overseeing the new builds at Wornington Green, responded: “We understand the concerns about removal of trees. We understand that this is a concern at the moment when people are spending so much more time at home. around the local community appreciating the local green space.”
He said that Catalyst Housing try to avoid tree removal, and whenever they can, “buildings and streets are designed around trees” . Really? That’s not exactly reflected in the number of trees lost, from what Wornington Green and nearby residents tell us, or indeed viewed on our own visits to the estate…..
Mr O’Hara::”Unfortunately we do need to move trees in order to build more homes. We accept and share the view os the petitioners that there is a climate emergency. However, we also recognise that there is a growing demand for modern efficient housing in London and in this phase of development (2b), we are bulding 230 homes 108 of which are social rent homes.to energy efficient standards amd to reduce environmental impact” Sorry Mr O’Hara, but we’re far from convinced as to how large scale destruction of trees and greenery reduces environmental impact.
He went on: “There will be huge gains for the community aside from more modern homes as a result of this regeneration. There will be new community facilities, new public realm, and we’re creating a new green space in partnership with RBKC – that’s Athlone Gardens”
No, we cannot excuse this from Mr O’Hara, saying that Catalyst are creating community facilities, – they’re not; they’re replacing them. -. We think he has some downright nerve to say this to people who have been in or around the local area for years.
He did say that the regeneration since 2011 has brought an additional £1million to fund community development projects including services, jobs and training opportunities as well as after school clubs and funds for the Venture Centre.
Mr O’Hara said the tree plan had been agreed by RBKC in 2010 and as many new trees should be planted as possible and as many as possible should be retained. He said it would have been looked at carefully when the masterplan was designed.He said with regards to consultation, the masterplan was widely publicised at the time and while this was 10 years ago, the masterplan remains the blueprint for the regeneration and that subsequent planning permissions were given by RBKC in 2014, 2017 and 2019. Catalyst had according to him, held a number of events both online and in person and that the RSG – the Residents Steering Group that the housing association sees as integral to the project to represent to views of residents and helps to choose designs and recently helped with selecting a contractor and keeps the organisation close to comnunity opinion apparently.
He said that they were proposing to plant 16 additonal trees in the public realm, bring the total of new trees in the development to 69, but failed to say how many of the 69 trees would be in the public realm and how many would be plane trees
Cllr Johnny Thalassites Lead Member (cabinet] for Planning, Place and the Environment thanked Constantine for the petition and said: “We need to save as many trees as possible. I welcome the commitment to retain two additional trees and to plant some more. I’m grateful to Fearghal and his team for working with us on that, but I think the key thing I would say is that I knew from campaigns in my own ward saving trees in Holland Park Avenue just how emotive and valued trees can be in a community, and that they can be a real green lung for for a neighbourhood”
“So I really believe that we should work harder to protect the more of the trees. I tend to think we’ve not gone far enough yet, I think there’s work to do.”
He said that they needed to go further to work to saving the trees and implored Catalyst to keep wotking with council officers to save more of them and while more social housing provided was a good thing, he regretted the fact that the council could not do anything about the Planning decision made 10 years ago (before he was a councillor), he would want to retain the treet but his hands are tied as Catalyst has no legal compulsion to follow his directions.
“The mood in the council and the Leadership is certainly to protect community, to protect trees and to support local residents and in the north and across the borough.”
Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (Conservative, Redcliffe) – and Chair of this very Committee asked Catalyst if there was any way that Catalyst could look at the plans again to try and save the trees.
Cllr Greg Hammond (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) asked for more clarity on the planning permission, as he understood that there was a time limit on planning permissions “Or is it because the development has already started planning permission is deemed to still be in existence because the building work was started?”
Martin Lomas Strategic developments Manager, RBKC Planning and Place; ” Planning permissions, effectively once they have been implemented, they exist in perpetuity and developing countries that planning permission out so when we grant planning permission they’re subject to a condition that requires them to commence within three years. But if they do commence within that time period, then effectively the permission is then available to the developer in perpetuity to carry out that development in accordance with that planning permission.”
Pat Mason (Labour,Golborne Ward) Leader of the RBKC Opposition is one of the local councillors for the estates and said he was there objecting at the Planning Committee 10 years ago and at the time the consultation was a “complete joke”
“Kensington Housing Trust that morphed into Catalyst had a history of having absolutely dreadful consultations that even the council at that time said were not sensible, were not representative of what residents think. I have the planning application in front of me as it happens . The planning application noted that there was a 540 signature petition against the application and there were 53, other main objections, including the local councillors, and these were on 40, different main points, and these included, the loss of trees, the removal of Athlone Gardens, because that was mentioned here, the road layout and speeding traffic”
He said that Lady Hanham, a former Leader of RBKC for 11 years, had objected to the scheme saying that ‘I’m voting against because I do not believe this application benefits the people of Wornington Green’ and we made a big fuss at the time about the fact that Athlone Gardens was going to be erased and replaced and it was going to take years and years for these trees to be knocked down, but the prevailing majority on the committee with the casting vote of the then Chair (former councillor Terence Buxton) voted for this, and we were horrified because you can’t cut down. nearly 100 trees, and not expect an environmental problem so I think they should redraw the masterplan”
He said the development was 60% private housing because Catalyst needs this to stand up financially: “It’s not about helping our people. Overwhelmingly we need social rent housing in Golborne, which is the poorest ward in England. We do not need more housing for the rich here”
“I think that they should redraw because they have a very unhappy community there, and very unhappy councillors, and they are adding to the desecration of the environment and I’m not persuaded by the soft platitudes of officers from Catalyst who are now speaking to me who were not there then. And who will be gone as soon as this development is built living up the mess that they created”.
Kim Taylor-Smith RBKC Deputy Leader and Lead (cabinet) member for Grenfell, Housing and Social Investment said he was grateful to Catalyst for looking again at the issue with the trees and also said that overall , the scheme provided more homes for social rent.
“The impacts in terms of obviously having improved housing and what that does in terms of the environment and I think we mustn’t forget that. We really are looking for as many socially rented homes as we possibly can. ”
He said he supported whar Cllr Thalassites was saying and that all of the trees should be looked at again and talked of the possibility of the borough “adopting ” the trees that cannot all go in Athlone Gardens and suggested that they could go in other parts of the borough.
David Lindsay (Conservative, Norland Ward) asked Catalyst to explain the nature of the consultations that Catalyst had with residents living in the area and nearby and to expand upon that because an observation of his, as a councillor was “when I have planning issues in my ward, typically, the person who is putting in the application testifies that they have given and spent a great amount of time, consulting with their neighbours when in actuality some neighbours don’t believe a word of it.”
Fearghal O’Hara responded by sauing thay Catalyst had been consulting with residents over the past few years and held numerous events, including a “Party in the Park” event at Athlone Gardens, where they presented their proposals for Phase 3. Catalyst had held many consultation meetings in relation to conservation and proposals on designs for Athlone Gardens which they had held in collaboration with RBKC. Catalyst hild monthly meetings with the RSG – Residents Steering Group- and he said they endeavour to keep the RSG abreast of upcoming proposals and actions. “In addition to that, personally I strive with my communications team to keep the locals updated as to what is happening in terms of construction and anything we believe will impact on the residents’ wellbeing.”
Cllr Lindsay asked residents if anything what Mr O’Hara had said then, bears any resemblance to their experience of consultations.
Keith Stirling:”I was a member of the steering group and have recently resigned over this business with the trees I was a member of that steering group for many, many years. And the consultations that passed, basically paying lip service to the residents on Wornington Green ” and that “Catalyst were going to do whatever they were going to do”.
Keith told the Committee that as far as the steering group went, it was around 4 to 5 people and didn’t really represent the whole of the estate. He had argued that more people should be involved with the RSG but that some did not want to belong to it as they didn’t belive what Catalyst was telling them. When he found out that Catalyst were going to chop down the trees, he was horrified and resigned because “I’m not going to sit in a room with people that are going to do this sort of damage to my environment”.
David Lindsay: “I think its abundantly clear that Catalyst have not taken their residents with them. ”
Cllr Rossi: “I agree. I think that the whole thing. You know it’s a 10 year old planning permission and that people are saying they only just found out in November, that this is is going to happen. In terms of communication, something has obviously gone very badly wrong”.
Cllr Janet Evans (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) said she thought what Kim Taylor-Smith had said on moving the trees elsewhere was a good idea as was concerned that if some were moved on site at this stage , they might not survive.
She asked Catalyst “How would you mitigate on the loss of the trees? Because people do need them, especially now. They need a psychological environment of beauty, and what can you give, in terms of a happy space?” And she asked Constantine if he would be happy with this.
Mr O’Hara replied that part of what Catalyst are proposing will be two blocls of flats surrounded by trees in the public realm and in addition to that, each block will have a courtyard, whereby residents on the blocks can look out upon gardens which are below ground level. He said that Catalyst see Athlone Gardens as a potential jewel in Wornington Green, “so at the end of the regeneration, it will be a green public space for all to enjoy”.
Constantine: “These trees are here, they’re Wornington Green trees, theu are quite fragile and precious, so I mean it’s a very last resort to contemplate doing that. I could imagine an environmentally sensitive architect who would be connected to the scheme could look at the plan. attempted to build the new blocks around the site of what’s here. So we have the ability of building, what’s here as a footprint, and that might give us the ability to try to build around the trees. Now, I don’t think it’s rocket science to look into that. I wish that was being explored. Just seems to be about, people often come into an area, developers, and they just want erase what’s there, and not take stock of the value of what’s there.”
Keith: “The green spaces on Wonington Green that we have at the moment are quite precious to us, we really do need them. Everybody on my estate here, we talk about it all the time, how how much we love those trees and how much we love the wildlife that lives in those trees.
He said it was a wonderful thing to get up in the morning and see birds and squirrels when you’re going to work. But they’ll all be gone and it will take away from out environment What are we doing? I remember there was a song about putting trees in a tree museum. Is that where we’re going? To pay to come and see trees?”
Cll Will Pascall (Conservative, Stanley Ward) and Chair of thr RBKC Environment Select Committee asked Catalyst specifically to follow up on what Kim Taylor-Smith had said, if they would he open to looking again at the trees that have to be cut down and seeing if there can be any modifications made to the design to allow some of them to stay and for others to be moved elsewhere locally He said that as London plane trees have specific benefits and these ones were old and magnificent. He spoke of planting the trees for the future and that several trees would need to be planted for each one taken down.
“Now, it seems to be in this situation there is no answer that will fulfill what Catalyst, want to do. What they’ve got planning permission to do on one hand, and what the residents, particularly the two people who brought this petition, have expressed on the other hand, that what Councillor Lindsay pointed out, is that what is missing from here is some kind of working together, and I think that what Councillor Kim Taylor Smith suggested was a very good suggestion towards that possibility. And my question is really as to whether Catalyst would be prepared to look at it seriously and to put some money behind it?”
Fearghal O’Hara: ” I have been working with a team of architects and landscape architects and structural engineers over the past months. We are not just brushing the concern aside and we have investigated the layout of the buildings and of the public ground, but the problem is these trees were planted with the layout of the estate” He said it’s almost impossible to build the buildings in the same layout and build around the trees. He said they do recognise the benefits of London plane trees and they are proposing to plant some on the scheme.
Cllr Pascall then re-asked part of his question ” part of the question which I don’t feel has been answered” regarding are Catalyst prepared to take on board what Kim Taylor-Smith said and look at the trees and which ones can move moved locally and which ones cannot, if and if they cannot, can be moved elsewhere in the borough and for additional extra mature plane trees to be planted in addition to what has been reported and on top of that engaging with borough officers and residents and to put some money behind it.
Mr O’Hara replied that it was subject to approval within the various departments at RBKC….
Cllr Pascall:”.and to plant some new ones”
Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst feel that they are at capacity with planting additional new trees on the street because root systems, plus the daylight issues that additional trees may create could become a factor.
Cllr Pascall: “So you’re prepared to look at it, the question is are you prepared to look at it with the borough officers and residents because as Councillor Lindsay said one of the key components here is a meaningful consultation with local residents. On this particular issue that does not seem to be a meeting of minds”
Cllr Max Chauhan (Conservative, Queens Gate Ward ) asked Mr O’Hara why only 3 trees when the company spoke to specialist contractors “it was put in section 3.16 that this is being explored, implying it hasn’t been explored. Can we see more exploration and see if these trees can be identified to transport to Athlone Gardens or adopt in the wider borough”
Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst would be prepared to explore that further.
Cllr Judith Blakeman (Labour, Notting Dale Ward) :”We heard today that the regulator of social housing has just downgraded Catalyst’s financial position. So I am concerned that we have no guarantee either that this development will ever finish, because it’s already been delayed,- all that after the trees have been destroyed. This destruction of trees goes against all the council’s new policies.”
Christine Dingle, Wornington Green resident: “I think everything needs to be relooked at, reassessed and replanned., and I think it’s just so devastating and upsetting to think about, cutting the trees down, and all that time to grow, and are part of our lives”.
Abbas Dadou, Notting Dale resident, Cahir of Lancaster West Residents Association said that the community was being treated as a commodity “these people, they come and buuld and they go” He had issues with the planning department “you know, you people are supposed to be our guardians” referring to 200 square metres of green space in Lancaster West Estate, he said that planning officers and an architect had referred to it as a “useless bit of green” “We have 4 beuatiful palm trees there. For over 20 years , that green space is very important to us and they want to build a nursery beteeen two blocks forcing in a building, and leaving 4 metre gaps. So I can understand and I feel their pain . These companies who make huge money at the expense of the community who has been through a lot since 2017”
Isis Amlak, resident Norland Ward and community campaigner : “The plan to me does not seem that it’s any longer fit for purpose. 2010 was a long time ago and as we all know, one of the things that the Grenfell Tower atrocity has shown us is that it’s vital that communities are listened to. And I believe there is a commitment from the council, that we would do things differently, , and that going forward, the voice of residents, particularly in the north of the borough would be heard, far more loudly. ”
Isis said she lived in a part of North Kensington that was abundant in greenery, but when you head further north, particularly in Golborne, there is a lack of trees and a lack of green space.
She mentioned toxicity in the environment, found in the soil after Grenfell, and that the trees are vital to removing pollution and they provide so many environmental benefits besides such as helping to avert the risk of flooding. The trees also bring psychological benefits – “it’s just more beautiful with trees” and she said that ” a clever committed architect will find a way to build around the trees and incorporate them into modern building designs.”
Isis also had tbis to ask Catalyst: “How have you taken the impact of the Grenfell Tower atrocity and all the multiplicity of issues that is caused into consideration in your plans? Can you evidence that because I’m horrified to think that this plan went through 10 years ago, Grenfell happened three years ago, and no one sat down at Catalyst and reconsidered how they’re going forward.”
Feaghal O’Hara said Catalyst now recognise the sensitivities in North Kensington, especially since the Grenfell tragedy ( meaning they didn’t recognise them before?) and that’s why they were committed to keeping residents informed and involved.
Judith Blakeman: “Keeping residents informed is not engaging with the residents and you don’t have to live there afterwards, after you’ve chopped down the trees. We have a salutory example on the Silchester Estate, where they put small trees in a courtyard as you said, and none of them flourished because of the lack of light. They’ve now got a mud patch. ”
Pat Mason: “Residents are just being palmed off with platitudes and you think we are stupid, you think our residents are stupid. You think they have nothing in their heads now that can’t be palmed off with any old story,
That’s what the residents said 10 years ago. That’s what they’re saying now. Councillor Blakeman is right, being informed what’s going to happen is not consultation and that’s what has happened
You will be gone just in a couple of years, leaving us with the mess behind, environmental mess, trees cut down, you move on to some other project, we hear this and that, we hear these stories all the time from people like you in five years time, you won’t be here, you will not be here, you will leave us with the mess you’ll leave the council with the mess”
Maybe Catalyst had expected an easy ride from the council that once approved their scheme? They certainly did not get one and finally, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (who has gone up tremendously in our estimation) , got her claws out and said this: “To sum up, I have something to say to Catalyst. Something has gone very badly wrong here. You’ve got a planning permission, which by the sound of it, you got by the skin of your teeth, 10 years ago. You have not been engaging with the residents. And something I learnt a long time ago. I used to work with the urban regeneration agency and rule number 1 for regeneration is that you don’t impose it. It’s got to be bottom up. You have got to take people with you. And it really seems in this instance that that is not happening.”
“So I would urge you Catalyst to go and look at your plans again and just see by building a few less houses or flats that you can actually save some of those trees. Because that is what the residents want, and as they have said, they are the ones who have to live there for years to come.
And Catalyst cannot just dump a project on residents and expect them to be happy about it because they would like to keep their trees. My sympathies are with the residents. I would urge you, Catalyst to look again, because it can’t be right, this level of protest against what you are doing and that you have not engaged with people down the years.”
So, it appears that quite a few of our councillors do not think the Wornington Green masterplan is the “cat’s whiskers” and neither do we
As a supposed charitable housing provider with local roots , Catalyst really ought to be caring more about this community and .their social housing residents. Instead these residents are, in the words of one of them who spoke to us, , “treated as an afterthought by Catalyst and in the way of the luxury flats” .
It’s all very well to build homes, but residents in the area deserve to feel comfortable and happy in their homes , and to look out of their windows or step outside and see trees. and wildlife, and not just see grey buildings and roads.Residents’ health will suffer as a result of this scheme, with more pollution, extra roads and far fewer trees,
This blog also has to tell Catalyst that if their plans lead to the immediate area lacking in trees, greenery, playspace and beauty , it might not attract the sort of buyers that would want to live there to set up home and to be part of the local community and instead would appeal more to buy to leave investors only interested in the high land value and lessen the close knit friendly community feel in the area.
This, along with less trees, green space and playspace would give the neighbourhood more of a transient, and less of a green, pleasant, neighbourly and welcoming aspect and would also likely bring an increase in antisocial behaviour and crime
We do take some encouragement from the responses of RBKC now (a huge difference from when the plans got through) We thank Johnny Thalassites in particular.
While we think the climbdown from Catalyst over the fate of 5 of the trees is a bit of good news, their whole conduct over this has been deplorable.
We too say they need to revisit their plans and not just plough ahead regardless and not put hefty profits above the health and wellbeing and needs of the local community. We also suggest that Catalyst looks into providing more additional green amenities, such as roof gardens for the residents , which would make the developments more pleasant and attractive for all residents – those in social housing, and also prospective buyers looking to set up home in North Kensington and be part of the local community rather than absentee investors whose main interests are in the land value (land banking) .
Listening learning and understanding the needs of the residents and community is key, but Catalyst do not seem to care, Another Wornington Green resident said this to us: ” Catalyst could use this as an opportunity to show they are adaptable and change and adapt their masterplan to fit the 21st century. They could listen to residents, work with an imaginative environmentally friendly architect and create a beautiful innovative redevelopment that works around the trees we love and need.”
This blog thanks all the inspirational residents and campaigners who are pushing for a better, healthier and considerably more environmentally friendly way forward for all.
We will leave our readers with some essential viewing – this link (which also links to some of Constantine’s other work) – a video of the brilliant “Wornington Word” film, a wonderful, but also bittersweet documentary showing residents from the Wornington Green Estate, their personal views, memories and experiences of the estate and the regeneration. We strongly recommend that our councillors and suits – and especially the officers, suits and directors at Catalyst Housing, watch this too;