Campaigners have won a High Court battle over plans to remove a mulberry tree to make way for flats on the old London Chest Hospital site.
The East End Preservation Society’s Geoffrey Juden led a legal challenge against Tower Hamlets Council to save the tree – said to be 400 years old.
The High Court found the council’s planning committee had misinterpreted national policy when making its ruling.
The tree, in Bethnal Green, had some high-profile backers, among them Dame Judi Dench. The veteran actor said the thought of the tree being dug up filled her “with horror”.
The tree once stood next to a chapel but the building was destroyed by a bomb during World War Two. The mulberry was left with scarred bark.
The East End Preservation Society said: “We are delighted that in this case justice has prevailed and the Bethnal Green mulberry is saved.”
Planning permission to demolish part of the site, excluding the main hospital building and sanitation tower, to build 291 residential units, was granted in October 2020.
Permission to demolish part of the former London Chest Hospital – excluding the main hospital building and sanitation tower – to build 291 residential units was granted in October.
At a hearing earlier this month, the High Court was told the tree originally grew in the grounds of Bishop Bonner’s Palace. The court heard that “an inkwell in the museum of the Royal London Hospital, made in 1915 from a bough, has a brass plate engraved with the sardonic yarn that the clergyman sat beneath it to enjoy shelter in the cool of the evening while deciding which heretics to execute”.
In a judgment delivered on Friday, Sir Duncan Ouseley said the council’s planning committee had unlawfully misinterpreted national planning policy when it considered whether the tree would die or deteriorate if it was moved.
Sir Duncan said: “A policy was misinterpreted, a material consideration was ignored.”
In a statement, the East End Preservation Society said it was “overjoyed to learn the decision of the High Court to refuse (developers) Crest Nicholson’s redevelopment of the former London Chest Hospital and prevent the developer digging up the 400-year-old tree”.