Council claims it is ‘not within its power’ to save trees

  Posted: 14.01.22 at 11:38 by Rory Poulter

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Councillors claim they are powerless to stop the felling of trees in an important wildlife corridor for bats and other wild creatures.

A developer has been given permission to fell five trees on a site near Twickenham Green, by council planning officials.

The proposal has drawn condemnation from local residents, the Friends of Twickenham Green and the environment group Habitats & Heritage.

H&H are a charity which is officially designated with the role of caring for the natural and historic environment and climate in south and west London.

The organisation has identified that the ‘backlands’ site makes an important contribution to biodiversity and is used by a number of bat species.

Now, Council chiefs say that they are powerless to stop the removal of trees. And they have written to the Government asking for a change in tree protection rules.

More than 40 people gave up their Bank Holiday to fight a developer’s plans to fell trees close to Twickenham Green.

However, it seems inevitable that this plea will not stop the removal of the trees on the site behind the Prince Albert pub, off Hampton Road.

Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, said: “We, along with many residents and environmental groups, are extremely concerned that these trees are important to protecting wildlife in the area, including protected species such as bats, but it is not within the Council’s powers to protect them on those grounds.

"National Tree Preservation Order legislation and guidance gives limited weight to the importance of trees to nature conservation or mitigating climate change, rather the focus is on the “amenity value” of trees, for example how visible trees are to the public and whether trees are rare or of historic value.

“As such, we will call for the Government to review as a matter of urgency the current TPO legislation to give greater weight to the value of trees for wider purposes other than visual amenity.

"Government policy should reflect the benefits of the tree canopy in relation to mitigating climate change and improving biodiversity, therefore giving local authorities the power to make decisions based on these priorities.

The plan has opponents including Friends of the Earth Richmond & Twickenham as well as Habitats & Heritage (H&H).

“There is of course national legislation to protect wildlife, such as bats, and we have reminded the owner that they will need to abide by these laws whilst carrying out works to the trees.”

On the third of January the Friends of Twickenham Green organised a protest against the ‘wanton vandalism’ to what has become a wildlife corridor.

The protest attracted over 40 people who brought a collection of homemade banners and signs to express their dismay over the council allowing the plans to go ahead.

Howard Roberts, who represents FoTG on environment issues, said: “Aside from hedgehogs, amphibians, nesting bird sites, invertebrates, including stag beetles, the site has significant ecological value being home to a variety of species of bats.”

He criticised the fact that the decision on the trees had been taken by council officials, rather than being passed to elected councillors. Mr Roberts said the process for approving felling the trees was also flawed because a decision was made before Habitats & Heritage had a chance to state its objections.

He said: “In the year of COP26, to which they publicly give lip service, it would seem that our local politicians have all too quickly lost sight of the ecological value of this plot.

“They seem content to leave the future of this once thriving wild life corridor in the hands of a developer, who knows the price of this land, but cares not for its value. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

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