July 8, 2015 by combehavendefenders
We managed to stop SeaChange’s latest treefelling adventures, but the fact that they are going ahead as if they still have planning permission for the Queensway Gateway road raises some very serious concerns. They obviously think that their next planning application will be rubberstamped as easily as the last one.
No planning permisison, no problem
Undeterred by the quashing of planning permission for the Queensway Gateway road, SeaChange contractors moved in to Hollington Valley on 7 July in order to fell one of the few trees left standing on the site. Two trees – a holm oak and an ash – had been left during the previous scorched earth treefelling operation in March as they contained bat roosts.
We were alerted early in the morning to activity on the site, and rushed up to find tree fellers hard at work on the oak; they had already taken off several large branches. We sat under the tree and forced them to stop work. Police were called, and a five hour standoff began.
Unlawful activity – by us, not SeaChange
One of the police officers wanted to hear what we had to say about the planning permission being quashed, and the treefelling therefore being unlawful. He went off to make some enquiries. Meanwhile, another one approached us quite aggressively, demanded our details, and told us we were committing aggravated trespass as we were obstructing lawful activity – that is, SeaChange’s treefelling operation. The police were keen to tell us they were being entirely impartial but it felt very much as if they were there to assist SeaChange to fell the trees, rather than to help us assert our right to protect a local wildlife site.
The treefellers had an ecologist with them – this is a requirement, rather than an illustration of SeaChange’s concern for wildlife. He spent most of his time grinning inanely at us. When asked if there were still bats roosting in the tree they were felling, he said they wouldn’t know that until it had all been cut down. You can see him in the picture below: he is clearly very happy with his work of rubberstamping environmental destruction.
By now, tape had been put up around the tree and the police said that we were about to be asked to leave, and it was very clear that if we refused, we would be arrested. At that point, we finally managed to get through to the lawyer who had worked on the judicial review of the planning permission. He made some calls, including to SeaChange’s lawyer, and managed to secure an agreement that they would not fell those trees unless and until the planning permission was granted for a second time.
This episode is very disturbing: clearly SeaChange thinks (presumably after consultation with the council) that the quashing of planning permission is just a small temporary difficulty, and that it will be granted again very shortly. This ignores the fact that the reason it was quashed was because the road, if built, would cause serious breaches of air pollution legislation, including in several resisdential properties.
The council has presented the issue as purely a procedural problem – had the committee been told about the air pollution issue and still decided to grant permission, there would have been no case. This is absolutely wrong: they cannot pass the planning permission again unless they deal with the air pollution issue, and it’s very hard to see how they’re going to do that and still build the road.
In the meantime, we need to be vigilant: to keep a sharp eye out for any work on the site, and for a reappearance of the planning application. Save Hollington Valley!