Plans for 137 homes off Foldgate Lane, in the final stages of approval, have hit a snag over plans to fell trees along 450 metres of the A49. This was not part of the original application and is a response to Highways England’s demands that there is adequate visibility on the main entrance to the site off the A49. The plans have been queried by Shropshire Council planning officers. They have also met strong objections from the council’s tree specialist.
At the end of May, housebuilder Crest Nicolson submitted detailed plans for the development of 137 homes (18/02413/REM). This stage is known as reserved matters, the outline plans having been controversially approved at appeal in November 2016. After Shropshire Council refused to challenge the appeal decision in the high court, the focus has moved to ensuring that the scheme is as good as it can be. That’s down to Shropshire Council’s planners and Viv Parry, occasionally supported by myself.
The development is to be called St Laurence View.
It was all going well. Changes have been agreed on landscaping and pedestrian access. But among many technical revisions submitted in mid-September were changes to the plans for access to the A49. All T-junctions onto major roads need to be splayed. The splay now proposed for this scheme involves felling and partly removing more than 450 metres of hedgerow and trees on both sides of the A49.
The hedgerows are described by the developer’s arboricultural consultants as a “typical woodland buffer strip” that is “densely planted with mix of fast-growing species”. They contain young mature and semi-mature trees up to 19 metres high with trunk diameters up to 650mm. Although there are “occasional failed specimens”, the trees form “cohesive canopies”. The species are ash, beech, cherry, English oak, hawthorn, scots pine and sycamore. The consultants conclude the trees are “moderate quality due to collective screening value” and “low individual significance”.
Shropshire Council’s Tree Service is very unhappy with this loss. The service says it had commented on the outline planning application in 2015 on the understanding that there would only be a small breach of the tree buffer to gain access to the A49.
The Tree Service complains that much of the felling is outside the development boundary established when the outline planning permission was granted. What’s more, the planning inspector who approved the scheme drew attention to the benefits the trees would bring in screening the new houses from the A49:
“The line of mature trees effectively screen most of the site from the A49… Although it is clear that some trees would need to be removed in order to facilitate the proposed access onto the A49… such removal is limited in scope and scale relative to the wider appeal site… Use of conditions, and when considered with the enhancements proposed by the appellant, would mean that the proposal would not result in material harm to the local tree or hedgerow populations.”
The developer will plant new trees to replace the hundreds felled. The view of the Tree Service on these mitigation plans is blunt:
“The proposed mitigation planting… does not provide sustainable compensation for the effect of the tree losses.”
What’s more, the current replanting plans could be overturned by Highways England. Officers are concerned that the replacement planting could also eventually encroach on properties and be felled.
The tree officers say that the proposals are a material change to the outline planning application. Planning officers seem not so sure and have asked the developer for more information. They want a photomontage of the access from the A49 under both the original proposal and under the new proposals. Could mitigation be in place from the outset using willow, hazel and shrubs? Can’t more trees to the south of the proposed access have their lower boughs pruned rather than being felled? Planning rules in the National Planning Policy Framework say that felling trees is the least desirable option.
Despite the diplomatic exchanges between officers and with the developer’s agents, there is quite a conflict here. It won’t lead to the housing scheme being scrapped but it could delay it a while.
There are other technical matters under review. There is an agricultural access under the A49. This is to be filled in. Officers say:
“Ecological connectivity has been assessed… It is likely that this will lead to the retention of a small culvert to provide access for mammals as part of the infilling works.”
Highways England says that it does not have enough information to approve infilling of the underpass. It has imposed a three-month block on approval of planning permission. I am sure the block will be removed once the paperwork has been exchanged.
With these new developments, I would be surprised if full planning permission is given this side of Christmas.
Councillor Viv Parry has requested that this stage of the planning application is considered by the South Planning Committee.