Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Freeman's Wood - TPO upheld at Appeal Hearing

The Freeman's Wood site.
Photo: March 2012
Lancaster City Council's Appeals Committee confirmed the Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on Freeman's Wood at their hearing on Monday at Lancaster Town Hall. Their decision opens the way for a possible prosecution for alleged recent breaches of the Order.

The single objection against the TPO was lodged by the owners of the property, the Bermuda-based Property Trust Group (PTG), in association with their partners, development consultants Satnam. The meeting heard that both have been in discussions with the City Council Planning Department for some 18 months now regarding their ideas for a new residential development on the site.

Mr Mark Mackworth-Praed, of Simon Jones Arboricultural Consultants, spoke on behalf of the PTG and Satnam. He presented the following objections to the TPO, namely:
  • That the woodland on the site consisted merely of shrubbery and undergrowth with very few mature trees.
  • That the site had little or no amenity value
  • That the trees could not be seen from public land
  • That the boundaries of the TPO included land that contained no trees
  • That the TPO notices had been incorrectly served by the City Council
Speaking for the TPO was Tree Preservation Officer Maxine Knagg, who made the case that:
  • The woodland on the site contains a large number of mature trees
  • The woodland itself is a organic wildlife environment naturally and desirably consisting of diverse trees, saplings and undergrowth
  • The site has a well-known history of use as a local amenity
  • The trees could be clearly seen from all sides of the site and other public locations
  • That the boundaries could be varied by the meeting to correct any unintended inaccuracies
  • That any TPO mis-service had been rectified and the proper notices served.
She also informed the meeting that the City Council was currently investigating alleged breaches of the TPO  (ie felling / damage to protected trees) on the site.

Freemans Wood
Photo: 1999
The meeting heard that 72 letters of support for the TPO had been submitted by local residents. There had also been complaints about the damage to the environment, the loss of amenity and the inappropriateness of the fence. This could be seen to be a significant demonstration of widespread community interest and support for the TPO.

Several people spoke from the floor, commenting on the amenity value of the site. Among these were local councillors and a representative of the Fairfield Association, who noted that the land was used as a 'green corridor' by wildlife, including deer. She pointed out that the recent fencing and digging of the land had been severely traumatic for local deer and, consequently, traumatic for local residents who took an interest in their welfare. She raised the importance of preserving a balance between wildlife and humanity for the benefit of future generations.

Unearthed landfill waste on the site
Photo March 2012
The city council's strategy over recent years of developing the adjacent cycling and walking routes as a community and tourist amenity was mentioned, as was the provision in the 1990s of a BMX cycle track for local youth within the site itself, although this has recently been bulldozed by the
owners. The fact that Freeman's Woods has featured as an 'attraction' on the Virtual-Lancaster virtual tour since the website was founded in 1999 was also raised by this correspondent as evidence of the amenity value of the woodland to local residents and visitors.

The presence of asbestos in the construction rubble from the old Williamson factory recently unearthed was mentioned, with the strong recommendation that the council take steps to ensure it is covered again at the earliest opportunity and the trees retained and encouraged to maintain stability of the old landfill under the site.

Bulldozed landfill and trees
Photo: March 2012
Mr Mackworth-Praed then went on to argue that although the land may have had some amenity value in December 2011, when the TPO was set in place, it had since been fenced off, and consequently no longer had such value. In addition, he believed that the fence now obscured the view of any trees that might be there, further reducing their amenity value.  Cllr Barry noted that the fence does not entirely surround the site, and it is, in fact, all publicly accessible.

After lengthy deliberations in private the Committee voted unanimously to confirm the TPO on the site with two conditions:

1. the boundary of the TPO be amended to exclude an area of hard-standing
2. Areas within the boundary that are currently grass meadow without trees may be mown without the need for an application to carry out tree works.

A carpet of waste dumped outside
the site fence
Photo: March 2012
The committee's verdict clearly met with approval from the members of the public who had waited over an hour in the corridor to hear it. Local residents have been dismayed by the erection of high steel fencing along stretches of a local beauty spot, the recent destruction of trees and upheaval of the site and the appalling mess as historic landfill waste has been unearthed, scattered and dumped through the surrounding area.

This website has published photographs taken in March 2012 depicting clear evidence of extensive tree felling and damage to the site and the surrounding paths. A deliberate breach of a TPO can incur a fine of up to £20,000 if a Magistrates Court convicts.

Workman felling trees on the site
Photo: March 2012
Where, hypothetically speaking, trees have been felled in breach of a TPO in order to undermine that same TPO, perhaps, say, to potentially reduce the value of a site as a public amenity, one could surmise that such a brass-necked attempt to circumvent legal process could be interpreted as an aggravation of such a breach. This would, of course, be entirely a matter for a magistrate to determine.

Depending on the outcome of their current investigation the City Council may now take legal action to enforce the TPO. The matter of the mess around the site, and the safe disposal of the waste material unearthed from it has also to be resolved.  We will keep readers posted and welcome your comments.

• Visit the Save Freemans Woods group on facebook

• See previous stories:
'Catastrophic damage to 'protected' Freeman's Wood - photos'

• 'Coronation Field developer's next target?'


Anonymous said...

excellent account of the afternoon's proceedings. Green councillor Kay, in his write up, also acknowledged a small but verdant demo outside the town hall - which included supporters, and those sympathetic, to the Occupy group.

Anonymous said...

Well done to all and to Maxine Knagg who has answered my queries to the council swiftly and profesionally