A developer who cut down mature trees in a Church Road back garden before submitting plans to build five bungalows on the site was roundly condemned at a Brightlingsea Town Council planning committee meeting last night (March 11).
Town councillors recommended the plan for land behind Strangers Way for refusal, after they said the tree removal had destroyed bio-diversity and adversely affected wildlife and nearby ancient woodland.
The plans have been submitted by Park-Mark Ltd of Elmstead Road, Wivenhoe, which shares a director – Glenn Parker - with the Stronvar care home, located next door to the proposed development. Brightlingsea mayor Graham Steady told the meeting: "The way that this has been handled by the developer is why developers get a bad name." He added: "Taking the trees down before planning was obviously a ruse to get round any TPOs (tree preservation orders) that would have been put up."
The trees on the land were felled in the summer of 2020. While the clearance was happening, Brightlingsea Town Council called in Tendring District Council's tree officer,who decided that despite being mature and healthy, the trees had "low amenity value" and their protection "would be difficult to justify".
At the meeting, councillor Jean Howard questioned the tree officer's judgement. "I just can't believe it," she said, and pointed out that traffic leaving the site would exit on to a blind bend. "It would be really, really dangerous," she said.
An ecology report submitted for the developer by Colchester-based housebuilder Arbora Homes this February – carried out months after the land had been cleared – was also strongly criticised. It concluded that the site "does not contain any priority habitat" and that "no evidence of, or potential for, any legally protected species was found on the site" and suggested that new planting and "habitat boxes" would ensure "biodiversity net-gain". Councillor Mick Barry said the report was "probably one of the worst I have ever read and does not stand up to a minute's scrutiny."
Members of the public who spoke at the meeting were also strongly against the plans. Roger Tabor, who is president of the British Naturalists Association, claimed that a tree in the adjacent ancient woodland had been removed during the garden clearance. "Such woodlands are considered irreplaceable," he said, adding that three of the proposed bungalows would be within a 15m buffer zone required next to ancient woodland.
Mr Tabor said that the clearance had resulted in a "massive loss of biodiversity, so the proposed development with a few nest boxes cannot offset that loss". Susie Jenkins, of the Brightlingsea Nature Network, said: "How can there be a biodiversity report after the land has been cleared?" Liz Artindale added: "They just seem to have ridden roughshod over everything."
Cllr Steady pointed out that the land was outside the local plan and councillor Jayne Chapman said that the town council had been strongly against a similar 'backland' development at Strangers Corner Councillors agreed that they would seek to 'call in' the current application – so that it is discussed by the full planning committee and the public's views can be heard – if Tendring's planning officers were minded to approve it.
The plans can be seen here on Tendring Council's website. At the time of writing, 17 objections had been received with no comments in favour.