A staple gun was used to nail hundreds of steel staples into Fitzrovia trees to install fairy lights to attract Christmas shoppers during December.
Mature Ash, Maple and London Plane trees in Fitzrovia, already under stress, were used to welcome seasonal customers and to promote commercial activity but without advice and permission from Camden Council’s tree officers.
Local residents also objected to the trees being used in this way, but were unaware of the damage to the trees until a Tottenham Street resident pointed it out in February.
Five trees, including a maple tree on the corner of Tottenham Street and Tottenham Court Road which already had severe damage to its bark, had steel staples driven into them to attach electrical cabling and lights. All the trees lie within the Charlotte Street conservation area. Picture of one of the trees here.
The tree lighting was commissioned by the chair of the Bloomsbury Association, and organiser of the Charlotte Street Festival, Jim Murray, who declared on his website:
“The spectacular tree lighting on Charlotte Street and Whitfield Gardens has been provided with the generous sponsorship of The Fitzrovia Partnership, Fitzroy Tavern, Gaucho, Pescatori, Siam Central, Thai Metro, La Perla and Charlotte Street Blues.”
Over the months of December and January the unsightly nails, cables, wires, and electrical junction boxes were hidden from view for most of the time because of the dark skies.
However, in the middle of February Tottenham Street resident Linus Rees noticed that the lights were still installed in the trees.
“I wondered why the lights had not been taken down in early January and then I noticed those awful cables were coiled around the poor trees and that they were attached with steel staples. So I took pictures and showed them to my neighbours who encouraged me to contact Camden Council,” said Mr Rees.
The treatment of the trees was widely condemned by residents and workers in Fitzrovia.
Anne MacGregor in Charlotte Street was angry that the trees had been defaced in this way.
“Who gave permission for the installation of lights? Will those responsible be prosecuted by Camden Council for doing so without permission? Did Camden Council or one of its agents give permission and if so, were they also ignorant of legal protections in place for unauthorised development in a Conservation Area? Will they be held responsible?
“It’s a great pity that Camden Council for all its bleating about environmental concerns did not spend more money and exercise more oversight to those they employ and we tax payers are paying for to care for the trees and landscaping on Charlotte Street – one of the last truly residential neighbourhoods in their area. The trees deserve better and so do we,” said Ms MacGregor.
Scott Macgregor described it as “vandalism to put electric lights in trees. The trees have enough of a hard time from pollution, drunks and what not, without doing this to them”.
Bloomsbury ward councillor, Penny Abraham said “It is scandalous that these poor trees were stapled.” And councillor Rebecca Hossack said: “This is awful. I feel their pain.”
Sarah from RedHed in Charlotte Place was very upset and said: “It’s awful!”
A resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, witnessed the installation of the tree lights in Charlotte Street and told Fitzrovia News:
“I saw the lights being installed around midnight at the beginning of December and I noticed that some of the tree’s branches were being torn off and thrown onto the street. I should have reported this at the time. I now regret that I didn’t,” said the witness.
Mature trees in a conservation area are protected in law under section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Any application for an installation or works on a tree must be approved by the local planning authority and this involves public consultation. The arboricultural officer of the authority must also be consulted.
Camden Council’s tree officers have stated that they were not consulted and would not have approved the use of steel staples to attach electric cabling. The tree officer dealing with the case said that they would get the cables and lights removed as soon as possible.
It seems that someone in Camden Council gave permission for the lights to be installed as electricity cables had to be run from nearby lampposts to connect with the tree lights.
Sources in Camden Council told Fitzrovia News that if the council was supporting a Christmas shopping promotion then the council could bypass certain procedures in order to advance this initiative. It seems that Camden caved in to pressure from local businesses. And in the Christmas rush, public consultation, the protection of a conservation area and greenery went out the window.
Camden Council did, however, consult with the Friends of Open Spaces, Fitzrovia, over the installation of lights in one tree in Whitfield Gardens. But the Friends voted against the proposal arguing that putting Xmas lights in the badly maintained, rat- and pigeon-infested gardens was wholly inappropriate as well as commercialisation of precious public open space.
Mr Murray, who organised the lighting of the trees, said that he would be working with Camden Council to remove the lights from the trees as soon as possible.
Mr Murray also added that he had been assured by the contractors that the method of installing the tree lighting was an approved method and that the staples were zinc and safe to use on the trees. He said that about 20 staples had been used on each tree.
However, Mr Rees carefully extracted one of the 12mm staples from the tree and confirmed the staple was steel by using a magnet. He also stated that there are about 100 staples stuck in each tree.