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Robsack Wood trees threatened with imminent felling

St Leonards oak trees threatened with felling

From Eden to the Ancient Celts, and Monty Python’s lumberjacks to the Norse Yggdrasil, trees have attracted regard and wonder. An application to fell three oak trees in St Leonards with Tree Protection Orders is causing controversy. Bernard McGinley peers through the foliage of planning policy and sees where it is not being adhered to.

‘If a tree falls in a forest with no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ That old conundrum is still being kicked around, but a local issue is rapidly creating noise and the trees have yet to be felled.

They grow, strong and healthy, near Crowhurst Road. A householder wants less shade in his back garden and has applied to have two trees felled, and Hastings Borough Council (HBC) officers have indicated approval.

What’s wrong with that? Just about everything. For a start the trees do not belong to the householder, but are Council-owned. The trees are on an adjoining site and are protected by a Tree Protection Order (TPO 015, dating from 1957). The trees belong to Robsack Wood, which after a site visit in 2015, the Planning Inspector Richard Hollox specifically took out of the HBC Local Plan by his Major Modification 5:

. . . essentially on the grounds that environmental and community considerations outweigh the need/requirement for housing development.  A designation of some type of open space would appear to be suitable, maybe a Local Wildlife Site..

The felling has not as yet taken place – and there is still time to respond to the planning application: Planning Reference: HS/TP/17/00499. Read on for more information and use it in your response, should you wish to object.

The trees were there long before the house or the householder. If he didn’t like leafiness he could have gone elsewhere. The Borough has no shortage of razed or clear sites.

Location of tree felling, showing house and Robsack Wood

Location of tree felling, showing house and Robsack Wood (Image : Google Earth)

Application form errors

Then there’s the matter of the application form, which was not fully or properly filled in: Section 8 is blank despite being described as ‘required’. These should be grounds for invalidation and sending the form back. The TPO question (Section 6) was ignored.  Similarly the sketch map for an application relating to three trees shows only two, making it impossible to understand.

Good practice was shown in an officer’s report for this month’s HBC planning committee, regarding the Ice House, Rock-a-Nore:

The application form for the current application HS/FA/16/01010 was completed incorrectly.  As such it was necessary to make the application invalid. The application was re-validated when the correct application form was received.

The inconsistency is marked. In the St Leonards’ case, the Council’s tree officer in a statement described the trees in question as three mature oaks in good health and concluded:

The borough arboriculturalist raises no objections to the proposed works.

But no reasons were given.  

Similarly, the HBC Estates Manager – responsible for the land – wrote blithely:

Estates have no comments on this application.

Why ever not? These are healthy, legally protected, Council-owned trees.

The applicant mentioned in a later letter how the situation had come about:  

It was in fact the planning officer who recommended we apply for removal.

So HBC officers are seriously relaxed about the prospect of demolition. But nowhere in the casework is there any assessment of the acceptability or otherwise of this possible tree felling. The decision should be considered and justified, not just nodded through or passed off as a worthwhile opinion.

Advice from UK government

Central government guidance has lots on assessing the amenity value of the tree or woodland in such circumstances. Additionally it is highly unlikely that the procedure carried out here so far was in accordance with the relevant British Standard, BS 3998:2010.

Elsewhere in his letter the applicant explained somewhat helplessly that

it was during winter months and the extent of shadow was not obvious.

But a failure to understand seasonality and a dislike of neighbouring foliage are not adequate reasons to fell healthy trees protected by a TPO.  (A reference to ‘the other more abusive and insulting objections’ is a mystery as the Council does not permit this type of comment on their planning websites.)

Robsack Wood deserves much better than this treatment. This case could set an undesirable precedent for those who live near trees they do not care for.

Responding to this planning application

There is until 8 September to persuade the Council to do the right thing – or at least implement its own procedures.  The planning reference is HS/TP/17/00499.  After that the case will be decided by Council officers under the backroom ‘delegated powers’ system.  

To add to the controversy, no replacement trees are proposed — a breach of  Paragraph 6 of the TPO. 

The old song is becoming popular in St Leonards:

Hold on, desist, whoa, stop!

Put down that forest razor,

Chop not a single chop!

Woodman, woodman, spare that tree,

Touch not a single bough!

The view has been expressed that it’s not these trees that deserve the chop, it’s HBC’s planning department (in its present form at least).

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Posted 07:51 Monday, Aug 28, 2017 In: Home Ground


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  1. Penny

    There is a new application to do “works”, including felling 17 trees and reducing more, to one property at 93 Pevensey Road this week, if anyone is interested.
    As yet there are no comments attributed to the borough arboriculturalist.

    Comment by Penny — Friday, Sep 1, 2017 @ 09:11

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    Wouldn’t you think by now someone within Hastings Council would be pondering the plethora of complaints levied on their ‘tree’ officer?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Sep 1, 2017 @ 09:05

  3. DAR

    I think we’ve had enough of this cavalier attitude to trees and green spaces from the planners and politicians at HBC. As for the applicants wanting the removal of these trees because of “debris” in their back gardens, the trees were there when they bought the property and, presumably, they were not exactly ignorant of the fact that oaks are deciduous trees which shed leaves etc. in the autumn. I have the same problem, but rate the lives of the trees behind my property above the inconvenience of autumn leaves, twigs, acorns etc. in my back garden.I just clear it all up without any thought of running to the council to wipe out decades of arboreal history for the sake of a couple of hours of clearing up.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Aug 31, 2017 @ 13:57

  4. Andrea Needham

    I’ve had a lot of experience of planning applications in Hastings which sought to cut down trees with TPOs. I can’t think of a single instance where the borough arboriculturist made any objection. The only point of HBC’s tree officer appears to be to rubber stamp applications to cut down trees. Nonetheless, we should keep on objecting.

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Thursday, Aug 31, 2017 @ 11:00

  5. Penny

    Having kept a wary eye on planning applications for works to trees covered by TPO’s for years, I am not surprised by this atrocity.
    It seems to me that all one has to say is that you want more light, whether the trees belong to you or not, and permission will be granted to overturn Tree Preservation Orders.
    The arboriculturalist rarely raises any objection.
    I usually do, to no avail.
    Since trees are part of an ecosystem for wildlife, give natural beauty and reduce carbon emissions, I cannot understand why they are dispatched so readily.

    Comment by Penny — Thursday, Aug 31, 2017 @ 08:29

  6. ken davis

    As we all know by now, planning legislation needs radical overhaul.One of the weaknesses of that legislation is that it has very little means to deal with the on-going management of planning policy and decisions.The policy of retaining woodland in urban areas, commendable in itself, requires management of the trees i.e some reduction of the tree canopies. Clearly the Council have not done that and by this decision are avoiding the cost of that work now, it will fall, quite unreasonably, on the applicants.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Aug 31, 2017 @ 08:21

  7. Chris Hurrell

    Planning arbitrarily decided that applications for tree works are done by delegated authority back in March 2016 in relation to a tree works application at Rocklands that attracted over 50 objections. In doing so they further shut down any democratic accountability.

    In doing this the development control manager and chief legal officer have wilfully misintepreted the constitution of the council. Prior to this decision many tree works applications had been taken to the planning committee.

    We are now in the position where the fate of protected trees is decided exclusively by officers. The HBC tree officer Mr Wilken has a proven track record of failing to protect trees. This latest shoddy application at Robsack wood is just another example of how unprofessionally planning applications are handled in this town.

    This application should have been rejected as invalid as insufficient information was supplied. The fact that HBC officers advised the applicant to apply to have healthy trees destroyed is scandalous

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Wednesday, Aug 30, 2017 @ 12:48

  8. MsDoubtfire

    One has to ask why are planning applications for protected trees decided by planning officers and not presented to the Planning Committee for discussion as was the custom and practice.
    Who decided that applications for works to protected trees no longer have to go before the planning committee despite some of these applications received a great number of objections?
    The applicants who have applied to have these ancient oaks which are within Robsack Wood have also commented that they do not like having to clear their back garden of the autumn ‘debris’ of leaves, twigs and acorns. Surely this cannot be a valid reason to fell these ancient oaks which are within the ancient woodland of Robsack Wood?
    The author of this report is correct in stating it is the planning department which merits the chop.

    Comment by MsDoubtfire — Monday, Aug 28, 2017 @ 20:48

  9. Andy Ammo

    Yet again the Council gives the appearance of making it up as it goes along, and not knowing the procedural rules that restrict its courses of action. The government guidance (‘Making applications to carry out work on trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order’) explains

    . . . permission must be sought from the local planning authority by submitting a standard application form. The form is available from the Planning Portal or the authority. It is important that the information on the form makes clear what the proposed work is and provides adequate information to support the case.

    It’s not our job to do their job.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Monday, Aug 28, 2017 @ 13:11

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