Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director relative to determination of condition 5 of the planning permission for the redevelopment of the former Richard Cloudesley School site, which relates to the management and protection of trees on the site. It is proposed that on the western boundary one tree (a silver birch) is retained and four trees are removed and replaced by three 7m silver birch trees. All the affected trees are located within the London Borough of Islington and therefore regard should be had to their policies (in addition to the City’s own Local Plan policies).
The Chairman reminded Members that this was part of a previous decision of the Committee that had been called-in for determination, and that there would be speakers for and against the officer’s recommendation. There had also been other representations in addition to the registered objections which had been circulated to Members.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director introduced the item to Members, detailing the relevant previous considerations by the Committee, and presenting the officer’s report. The recommendation was that the Committee resolve to discharge the condition, and agree that trees T1, T2, T3 and T4 may be removed subject to compliance with the details set out in Condition 5 regarding replanting.
The Chairman invited the registered objectors to address the Committee. Jacqueline Swanson and Anna Parkinson addressed the Committee in objection to the recommendation, on behalf of residents of Golden Lane and the Golden Lane Baggers allotment group, with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
The applicant had agreed to the condition and had previously agreed to retain the trees. Objectors had a number of issues with the options testing document produced, and it was felt that the applicant had produced no evidence that they had properly considered alternative options that would not require the removal of the trees. The objectors themselves had drawn up a number of alternatives, which could be implemented at no additional cost with minimal impact. It was not clear why fewer trees were being proposed to replace the existing trees. The school hall would not need to be moved by 4 metres to accommodate the existing trees, as had been suggested. The options testing document had focussed on the worst options and dramatized severity. There was no need to reduce the number of trees and the applicant was aware of this when they agreed the condition originally.
It was felt that the applicant’s interpretation of the condition was biased, and their commitment was not being upheld. The objectors’ campaign was specific - the trees were needed by local residents and there would be a significant impact of removing them. The trees were needed as a public health measure against pollution. The replacements would not be in place for at least two years and would be less diverse. Their biodiversity was also valuable in attracting a number of different species of birds. Residents were entitled to expect community consultation, and had communicated with the applicants in good faith, having accepted that one tree may need to be removed. However, there was no evidence that efforts had been made to consider alternative options or construction management plans. It was hoped the Committee would refuse the application to discharge the condition.
The Chairman thanked the objectors for their presentation to Committee and invited questions from Members. In response to queries from Members, the objectors explained in more detail their alternative options for service arrangements, their concerns about the replacement trees, and their concerns about the assertion that the school hall would need to be moved by 4 metres.
The Chairman then invited Common Councilman Ann Holmes to address the Committee in her capacity as a Member of the Court of Common Council. Ann Holmes first declared her interest in the application, that she was a Member of the Education Board, a Trustee of the City of London Multi Academy Trust and Chair of COLPAI. She had kept abreast of the issues and appreciated the account of residents but urged the Committee to consider the facts explained by officers. The Committee needed to account for the cost and benefit of removing or leaving the existing trees. The current trees had been assessed as being of limited quality and lifespan, and the replacement trees would be of superior quality. The interim period should last around 13 months, and the developer had offered to put plants in place of the trees during the interim period. The plans would need to be redrawn if the existing trees were left standing, and delays to the project threatened its viability. She could not see a case for saving the trees, but any case should be weighed against the costs incurred and impact on the project of doing so.
The Chairman invited those speaking in favour of discharging the condition to address the Committee. Jon Bradburn, Gordon Abbott and Joao Bravo da Costa addressed the Committee in support of the recommendation, on behalf of Montagu Evans and in their capacities as parents of COLPAI students respectively.
The scheme had significant benefits and would deliver a much-needed primary school and social housing. The condition to protect the trees had been attached at a time when the current level of detailed design had not been available. Reasonable measures to retain the trees had been explored and a solution had not been found. The trees were of poor quality, classed as Category C, and had a life expectancy of 10 years. The trees were not subject to formal protection and could not be retained without damage to them within the design and delivery options or without moving the school hall which would incur costs and delay. The trees would be replaced with Category A trees that had a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years. The trees were an established feature, and this was an opportunity to make a long-term improvement.
The condition was one of 71 conditions attached to the permission. The conditions had been applied in the knowledge that it may not be possible that all of the trees could be retained. The existing school site was quite barren and was not green, and 5 trees did not represent a green corridor. There would be more trees in total under the existing plans, plus other green features such as hedgerows, and therefore preventing the scheme would be to prevent ecological improvement.
A number of children had been promised a new school and would have to find another school if the school could not be provided by 2020. The importance of ecology and a healthy environment, and the importance of the allotments to local residents was appreciated, but safety should come first, and the trees were a hazard if they were retained as they were decrepit and might fall. The sooner the school was opened, the sooner the local community would have a venue to collaborate to make improvements to the local area. The school would also bring environmental benefits.
The Chairman thanked those speaking in favour for their presentation to the Committee and invited questions from Members. In response to queries from Members, the applicant gave assurances that alternatives had been properly examined, and confirmed to a Member that three months after the approval, the trees had been discussed and no objection to them was identified, that the Golden Lane Baggers had later been advised via email that approval to retain the trees had been given, and that by October 2018, the Golden Lane Baggers were informed that the trees could not be retained.
The Chairman asked that Members move to debate the application.
A Member argued that the applicant had agreed to the condition when it was originally applied, and had had time to consider their options. The trees had not changed and were Category C to begin with. The replacements were fewer in number, were not diverse and were of poor quality. The green corridor would be lost for two growing and breeding seasons, and the allotments would be worse off. The options report did not appear to have looked at all the options, and the options presented showed the worst of both worlds for effect. The scaffolding during construction would only affect the canopies and not the roots and would only impact on one tree. The Committee should refuse the application so that alternative options could quickly be considered with experts, as it was possible only one tree needed to be felled. The variety of species should also be retained. The Committee should not give blanket approval to remove the trees and should retain the green features and diversity.
A Member added that the costs to the developer and delays that were raised as issues were not planning considerations. Attempts had been made to make links to policy, but no causality had been demonstrated. As revealed by the questions posed to the applicant, and the representations made, the applicants had caused delays themselves. The school hall would not need to be moved by 4 metres and the concerns raised in favour of supporting discharge were extreme and emotive. The Member felt the application should be refused and wagered that if the application was refused the developer would find a way to proceed and also retain the trees.
A Member argued that as Members had previously pushed officers to figure out how to retain the trees, he believed a genuine effort had been made to look at alternative options. Further options had been presented by the objectors, but it was not fair to say that alternative options had not been looked at.
A Member added that he had attended the site visit and could see the relationship between the site and its surroundings and the importance of the green corridor, particularly considering the proposed development on a constrained site. It was disappointing that the applicant had not been more sensitive to local stakeholders and he planned to vote against it so that proper consultation with residents could be undertaken.
A Member reiterated that the trees were not being destroyed and would be replaced, by better quality trees with a longer lifespan. The Committee had previously made a decision to protect the existing trees, but there was nothing wrong with the Committee changing its mind.
A Member added that they had sympathy for the objectors and that there were lessons to be learned from the way the application had been conducted. The replacements could make significant improvements, and the biodiversity would be replaced as the wildlife returned. The Member wanted a commitment from the applicant and suggested a condition be added if the application was approved that ensured replacement trees that improve biodiversity, with any irrigation required to be provided at cost to the developer. The applicant should also seek advice on what types of tree would be recommended for the site.
A Member responded that it was unfair to hear that the suggestion of non-extreme solutions had not been addressed. Whilst the Committee could change its mind, delays should not be urged as a consideration as the developer had waited too long to raise the point. It had been made clear that the replacement trees were of lower quality than the existing ones.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director advised the Committee that the replacement trees would not immediately match the scale and the height of the existing trees but would eventually. If the Committee’s view was to consider alternative types of trees, this could be proposed as part of the undertakings that the Chief Planning Officer could deal with under delegated authority in consultation with the Chairman and Deputy Chairman. The Committee was advised that officers were willing to discuss the replacement trees with the developer. It should be possible to diversify the replacements, but they would need time to grow.
A Member asked that residents and the Golden Lane Baggers allotment group should be consulted on the acceptability of the undertakings.
A Member moved an amendment to the recommendation to add that the discharge of the condition should be subject to undertakings to ensure the replacement trees were of suitable standard, quality, age and biodiversity, with a variety of species, and that irrigation should be installed at the developer’s cost.
This motion was seconded, and Members then moved to a vote on the amendment to the recommendation, with 23 Members voting for the amendment, 2 voting against the amendment, and 1 abstention. Two Members had been ineligible to vote as they had not been present for the duration of the item. The amendment was therefore passed.
Members then proceeded to vote on the recommendation, plus the amendment relating to the undertakings, with 21 Members voting for the amended recommendation, 4 Members voting against the amended recommendation and 1 abstention. Two Members had been ineligible to vote as they had not been present for the duration of the item.
RESOLVED – That, the Committee resolves to discharge the condition and agree that trees T1, T2, T3 and T4 may be removed subject to compliance with the details set out in Condition 5 and the application regarding replanting and subject to undertakings to ensure the replacement trees are of suitable standard, quality, age and biodiversity (including variety of species) and that irrigation is installed at the developer’s cost.