London Underground: Trees would crush the Northern line according to London Assembly Member

Londoners want and need more trees. Lockdowns have illustrated our urge to get out into green spaces and recent air quality reports suggest our city needs every last sapling it can get.

One part of London cannot quite get any though, according to London Assembly Member Leonie Cooper, who sits in the Labour Group.

At yesterday’s Environment Committee session, Ms Cooper challenged Transport for London (TfL)’s Chief Health, Safety & Environment Officer Lilli Matson over the transport authority’s lack of greenery and permeable surfaces in road projects it has recently worked on.

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0 Leonie Cooper

Leonie Cooper is the Labour lead on environment at the London Assembly and has continuously campaigned for more green space in South London

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Seemingly unsatisfied with the TfL boss’ answers she began to answer her own question.

She explained: “I know why things can’t [be done to increase greenery]. At one point people were talking about the Balham Boulevard, and they wanted trees planted down the middle of the road. Unfortunately, that would then impede the Northern line from running just underneath those trees, unless you can think of a way to get tube trains to run through roots.”

It’s a curious reasoning given that the A24 road through Balham, which Ms Cooper is referring to, does have dozens of trees at regular intervals along the route. Some of the trees are directly above the Northern line now and tube trains are running.

In 2015, TfL launched a consultation regarding changes it would make to the road in order to better facilitate the CS7 cycling superhighway. It would have left the central reservation intact, which some local residents and the local Lib Dem group believed was a wasted opportunity to transform the road into a tree-lined boulevard. Wandsworth Lib Dems claimed at the time: “What is currently on the table frankly just isn’t good enough.”

Ultimately, TfL went ahead with its plans and no additional trees were planted. According to TfL, fewer than one per cent (2 out of 286) of respondents to the consultation “called for the central reservation on Balham High Road to be planted with trees.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the possibility of roots running into the Northern line tunnel underneath was a factor in TfL’s decision making.

Ms Cooper told MyLondon: “The planting of trees along the middle of Balham High Road, as part of a wider Balham Boulevard scheme, has been discussed since 2013 and had cross-party and Mayoral support. I remember raising it with TfL soon after I was first elected as the local London Assembly Member and they told me they had looked into it, but as the Northern line at Balham is so near to the surface they were unable to move forward with the proposals.

“This is obviously disappointing, but this week I suggested to TfL that they could plant shrubs or install planters instead. It’s really important that we explore every opportunity to green our capital, plant more trees and increase biodiversity and this continues to be one of my key focuses at City Hall.”

0 Croydon at night

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