Agenda item


Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.


The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director regarding Thaives Inn House, 3-4 Holborn Circus, London EC1N 2HA – specifically making a group Tree Preservation Order (TPOs) on the London Plane Trees (Planatus x acerifolia) situated on the public highway on St Andrew Street, in front of Thaives Inn House.


A Member noted that the Officer report stated that these two trees which were 75 years old hold a significant role in the townscape form of Holborn Circus, frame an important view of Grade I listed church of St Andrew Holborn, are in fair to good health with a life expectancy in excess of 40 years, have high amenity value and, as mature trees, play a significant part in climate change resilience. As a result, the report logically went on to recommend the making of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in respect of them. The Member went on to report, however that this appeared to be too good to be true and revealed that a planning application was made by TIH Ltd in October 2021 for the demolition of Thaives Inn House and its replacement by a larger office building. The new development entailed the adjacent highway being stopped up meaning that its ownership would be transferred from the City Corporation to the developer and that the two trees concerned, that stand on highway owned by the Corporation would be removed. He went on to remark that, it was not the Corporation’s proposal to make the TPO to protect the trees against the development and that the arboricultural report submitted as part of the planning application noted that the City’s planning officers had already agreed to these trees being moved as long as alternative greening was provided. It could therefore be expected that Officers would bring a report to this Committee later this year with a recommendation to this effect. This recommendation could be rejected by the Committee with Members refusing the application due to the removal of the trees. However, the Member predicted that this would not be the case given that the Committee had historically approved the majority of applications before it regarding major office developments. Secondly, he reported that a search on the Land Registry site, revealed that the freehold owner is the City of London Corporation, and commented that this Committee had tended to approve applications where the Corporation had a financial interest. The Member concluded that the Committee were therefore in the curious position of being asked to make a TPO in respect of trees that the Corporation’s Officers will recommend be removed and that this Committee will likely approve. Even if the TPO were approved, the Member explained that the approval of a planning application that entails their removal would trump this. The Member therefore questioned why this order was being proposed and noted that the report stated that if these trees were the subject of a TPO the City could insist on their replacement should they be lost. The Member highlighted that he had asked Officers via email why their replacement could not simply be made a condition for the approval of the application without a TPO being made and had been told that this was possible. He had gone on to ask as to the relevance of the possibility of a change of ownership of the application site referenced in paragraph 30 of the report. He questioned whether, if this change of ownership were to happen before planning permission was granted and a new owner refused to accept a condition to replace the trees with alternative greening, Officers could recommend refusal of the application because of the amenity value of the existing trees. The answer to this was that they could but Officers did express concern that the new owner could appeal against a refusal and cite the absence of a TPO in connection with the dispute about the amenity value of trees but had also said that ‘notwithstanding any absence of a TPO, the tree amenity argument would still be considered material, although the making of a TPO arguably reinforces and recognises the amenity value’. The Member stressed that, whatever the outcome of the planning process, the Corporation could simply refuse to stop up the highway if the new owner would not provide alternative greening. The Member concluded by suggesting that the Officers’ limited justification for proposing this TPO may reflect the fact that it did not originate from them but from the Deputy Chairman of this Committee. He questioned whether the Deputy Chairman could therefore outline what he hoped to achieve by this. He also commented that it would be interesting to see whether other members who voted in favour of the TPO would also vote in favour of the planning application that involved the removal of the trees that were proposed to be removed by it later this year.


The Chair thanked the Member for his contribution but suggested that his reference to the planning application was not relevant to this application and that he therefore considered this to be out of order in accordance with Standing Order 37(1).


The Deputy Chairman confirmed that he had initiated this process, partly in his capacity as Chairman of Open Spaces, where he had a clear interest in all matters concerning trees in the City and on City land. He underlined that he had a genuine interest in protecting and preserving them and had viewed these particular trees some time ago now and formed the view that they did not meet the criteria for removal (e.g. that they were not dead, diseased or dying). He now asked that the Committee consider this and come to a decision on the matter.


The Member responded to state that he considered it appropriate to refer to the application given that it was also heavily referenced within this report and that the TPO could only be understood in the context of this. 


Another Member referred to paragraph 30 of the report and the fact that there was some flexibility around the removal of these trees in the event of proper replacement in an appropriate way. He asked if Officers could comment further on this and whether they could provide some assurances that this would be done in such a way that would balance the need for the City to evolve with the protection of trees and green/open spaces. The Chief Planning Officer responded to report that in discussions on this application Officers had made it clear that, if these trees were proposed to be removed, then the applicant would need to balance this against a very substantial greening/tree planting element to mitigate this. It was confirmed that discussions were still ongoing and that no recommendation on this had yet been formalised given that the application was still out for consultation. Members were, however, assured that the maturity and future height of any replacement trees would be a material consideration.




i)              A group Tree Preservation Order in respect of two London Plane trees (numbered T1 and T2 on the attached plan) be made, as a public benefit would follow from the serving of the Order.

ii)             The Comptroller and City Solicitor be instructed to serve a copy of the Order on persons interested in the land affected by the Orders in accordance with Regulation 5(1) of the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservations) (England) Regulations 2012.

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