Saturday, 13 July 2013

Trees and planning

A couple of months ago there was the scandal of 'councillors for hire', offering lucrative 'consultancy services'. 
Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice - Telegraph 

The Daily Telegraph also looked at another aspect of the fruits of lobbying from the inside. When it comes to advice about trees... 

Planning investigation: 'we’d say cut down trees before they object’

Telegraph investigation: For Graham Salisbury there is a simple explanation for his firm’s near perfect success in helping developers win planning permission — “ruthless determination”

By , Holly Watt, Ben Bryant and Christopher Hope

“One thing we sort of pride ourselves on is results,” said Mr Salisbury with a grin, as he went on to describe the “little wrinkles” he could help his clients overcome in return for a fee.
Mr Salisbury thought he was speaking to potential investors. But the two people sitting opposite him were undercover reporters from The Telegraph investigating how councillors, officials and former politicians, are working as consultants for companies trying to win planning permission.
One thing he neglected to mention was that he was also a town councillor for Garstang, Lancs, something that has caused some disquiet locally over the potential for a conflict of interest because of his work as a planning consultant.
Following disclosures by this newspaper on Monday that councillors throughout England are for hire to property developers who are hoping to take advantage of relaxed planning laws, Labour have said local politicians should be banned from making money from the planning system in their area.
Hillary Benn, the shadow local government secretary, said Eric Pickles had a duty to ban the “lobbying for reward” culture among councillors.
For, as Mr Salisbury explained, there is nothing illegal about what he is doing.
Mr Salisbury set up the planning consultancy Graham Anthony Associates more than 30 years ago and became town councillor for Garstang two years ago.
In 2011 the company had a 97 per cent success rate in winning planning permission for developments. When a reporter asked how they managed to win so many cases, the reply was to the point — “ruthless determination. I think that’s how they describe it”, he explained.
In the meeting with the reporters, Mr Salisbury gave tips about how developers could “prepare the ground” before a planning application to a council, including cutting down trees so neighbours or interested parties did not get a chance to apply for protection orders.
“We’ve got to be absolutely ruthless and just say look, you know, we need to get rid of x, y and z before we even submit this application.
“It’s totally legal, I mean we don’t, I mean if it’s not protected you can take it down. But as soon as you put the planning application in, a neighbour or an objector sees the tree, we want that tree protecting, you’ll have a protection order on it, before the planning application reaches them and then you’ve got an issue then.
“That’s just one example of preparing the ground. There are other examples like that, not just trees, but all kinds of little wrinkles,” he said.

Other Councillors seem to have the same lack of respect for trees and those who hold them dear:

Local Guardian News

Esher councillor stands down from planning committees after Telegraph sting

By Laura Proto

Monday 11th March 2013
Coun Archer said he could persuade councillors to back developments with trade-offs and said he knew “who the tree huggers are and who the thick idiots are”.

Esher councillor stands down from planning committees after Telegraph sting (From Your Local Guardian)

Now, there has been an application in West Hill for dwellings where once oak trees stood:

Planning application submitted on land where oaks felled

It will come as no surprise to most people who witnessed the appalling felling of four healthy mature oak trees in Elsdon Lane, West Hill, earlier this year, that a planning application for three dwellings has now been submitted on this land, which has also now seen a boundary hedge removed with next door, which the developer has also purchased.
Planning application submitted on land where oaks felled
Here are my comments, submitted to the planning officers, today.
This application is in my ward and my preliminary view is that it should be REFUSED.
In March, four mature oak trees were felled after being deliberately and fatally damaged, it would appear, in order to gain planning permission for more dwellings than would have been permitted if the oaks remained, because of damage to roots.  This was an act of indefensible destruction of irreplaceable and magnificent trees, which supported important eco-systems.
Three dwellings are now proposed on the land at Cornercroft and Wrenswood next door, where the hedgebank boundary has been removed between the two properties. 
The planning application states that the area proposed for development totals about 2648 square metres, which is approximately two thirds of an acre.  This may not be regarded as overdevelopment in many locations, but it is an inappropriate density in Lower Broad Oak Road and Elsdon Lane, which are quiet leafy country lanes, with dwellings well spaced within their plots amid many mature trees and bordered by Devon banks full of flowers.
The proposed loss of several metres of Devon hedgebank on the Lower Broad Oak Road boundary for access reasons, would add to the urbanising effect.
I am also concerned for the remaining important oaks and beeches (now TPO’d), that the scale of loss of green space could have a detrimental impact on the roots of these trees, which in the longer term, may die.
If the oaks had remained and a planning application had been submitted for fewer dwellings, the vegetation would have screened any impact of the dwellings and mitigated the loss of green garden space and would have probably been acceptable from a street scene perspective.
My view is that the number and scale of proposed dwellings with their proximity to the hedgebanks and associated driveways, would have an unacceptable urbanising impact on the street scenes of both Elsdon Lane and Lower Broad Oak Road.
I reserve my position until all the facts are known, or in the event that this application comes to committee.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

This is not the first time in the District that there have been such concerns. In 2008, 'healthy mature' cedar trees were felled in a controversial application for housing in Sidmouth:

Cedar felling must not set a wrecking precedent

Friday, April 18, 2008

SIR - Many Sid Vale Association members have expressed great dismay over the destruction of the mature cedar of Lebanon and the Monterey pine within the grounds of Cedar Shade.

Approximately four weeks ago, I was contacted by an SVA member, informing me that a tree surgeon was operating within the grounds of Cedar Shade. We understand this first tree surgeon was asked to quote to fell both trees and in addition a mature beech tree. He refused to do so because they were, in his opinion, not diseased or a danger to the public. Brian Hall, chairman of the SVA Conservation committee, immediately contacted the tree officer at EDDC, and warned him the developer was seeking to fell these trees. Brian expressed our concern for the safety of these trees. He asked him to ensure the trees were not felled by the developer. We received an assurance he would visit to see what was happening.

On April 1, Mr Hall received a number of calls from alarmed members that work had commenced on the destruction of these trees. He checked again with the tree officer, whose response was that he had agreed to the tree felling as the trees would be unlikely to last the expected life of the redevelopment.

The SVA had supported the revised plans for the redevelopment of the Cedar Shade site, but it was beyond belief that it would take place at the cost of losing these fine arboreal specimens. The SVA was of the opinion the trees were covered by Tree Protection Orders. We have now discovered that, although this had been the case, the TPO was suspended in order to allow redevelopment to take place. If this information appeared on the revised plans, it was certainly not highlighted! A suspended TPO implies that it is temporary action, and will be restored. In this case it seems to have been a convenient way of allowing the destruction of healthy trees, of no danger to anyone, except the financial considerations of the developer. It suggests the re-developer must have intended from the start to destroy these trees, otherwise he would have planned to include them within his planning application.

This must not be allowed to become a most dangerous precedent to wholesale wrecking of Sidmouth's heritage.

At the annual meeting of Sidmouth Town Council on April 3, the chairman, Councillor Tom Cox, emphasised to all members of the council that, under its newly devolved powers, it was now the responsibility of each councillor to be watchful and aware of intended destruction of trees, and the likely effects upon the Sidmouth scene. We are grateful for his evident concern. At the same meeting, the chairman of the council's planning committee, Chris Gibbings, said the developer had agreed to replant a Cedar of Lebanon and other trees on the site. Although this is of some comfort, we would have preferred the intended redevelopment to have included the healthy mature trees.

Handel Bennett 
SVA Chairman

There was 'official' concern too:

Sidmouth Town Council raised concerns in the Minutes of its Planning Committee at point 08:9/P15.5: 
On 16th May, the Clerk wrote to the District Council regarding the above application expressing concern regarding the behaviour of the Property Developers at Cedar Shade in respect of the trees. The Clerk reported that a reply was still awaited.

The role of all the authorities was questioned: 
And so to the puzzling role of the district council. The site could not be developed to best advantage unless a number of the trees were removed. The council decided that all the trees that were in the developer's way were either "over-mature" or were diseased or more dangerous (and couldn't be made safe?) What a convenient coincidence!! 
The County Highway Authority had recommended refusal of the planning application. That recommendation was rejected by EDDC. Although it is pernickety when it deals with small matters, the council seems to become excessively limp when it is asked to accommodate the needs of major developers. It strains at gnats and swallows elephants. 
The only reported contribution of the town council to the debate was that if trees had to be felled they should not have all been removed at once. I question whether one a year would have suited the developer!
We must all make planning concerns known - Letters - Sidmouth Herald

And the Vision Group expressed concern that this case would set a precedence:
Mr Crick pointed to Cedar Shade, a project which saw mature trees controversially felled, where 30 per cent of luxury apartments are awaiting a first buyer three years on.
Vision Group for Sidmouth’s Fortfield concerns - News - Sidmouth Herald

The SVA now has its own Tree Officer:

Tree Watch

Concerned at the “carnage” inflicted on trees at Cedar Shade, the Sid Vale Association has appointed an officer to keep an eye on trees under threat. As an Association we have always been concerned about trees and the well being of our environment here in the Sid Valley - but with complications with the rules re Planning and so much change happening around us, we need our members to have a direct line to an officer who can immediately investigate any threatened tree of note in the town and surrounds.

No comments: