A letter I drafted and had signed by a number of Barnet and London Green luminaries appeared in the Barnet Times on Thursday 8 May. It was accompanied by a picture (which obviously I cannot reproduce – so I took a picture from Stephen’s House website – happy to credit them here). The text of the letter is below.
I should add, that the letter appeared on the day the plans were coming before the planning committee – with the tree removal notice having been pulled from the bundle. Permission was granted…
There is an application with Barnet council for developing Avenue House and Gardens (or Stephens as it has been renamed). This gem of a property, including an arboretum and a charming museum of Inky Stephens, was bequeathed to the public in 1918. Now it’s been lucky to receive money for improvements – which is surely good news.
In making its decision the planning committee must be guided by two principles: maintaining the character of the place; and the love we owe to plants, animals and natural spaces.
What makes Avenue House special is its secret garden feel. It is enclosed, and designed in undulating, overgrown topography that offers multiple scapes, hidden ponds, secret corners and a sense, every few steps, that one is in a new adventure. To lose that unique seclusion in over-exposed developments of cafes, restaurants, adventure playgrounds, and “opened up vistas” risks losing the value of the place. An open park is available nearby in Victoria Park.
Among the 79 supplementary papers to the planning application is a notice of tree removal covering 118 trees, in part to create “vistas” and open up views of the house. Trees are not eyesores. They are not design elements to be moved and removed at whim. They are precious, living things that are nature’s lungs, providing humming habitats for birds, insects and mammals that must surely be cut down with the regret and compassion we bring to putting down a pet. Some are memorial trees that have an added cultural value commanding respect from us all.
Let us improve Avenue House and Gardens by all means. Let us do it by enhancing its strengths and untidy charm, not risk them through over-development.
Darren Johnson Green member of GLA, and for Barnet Green Party: AM Poppy, Andrew Newby, Phil Fletcher, Ben Samuel, David Williams, Noel Lynch, Steve Norman