In the last few days, hundreds of trees have been felled on both sides of the A49 south of the Sheet roundabout. This is to create space for a T-Junction. This will be the only road access to the controversial Crest Nicholson development of 137 homes.
We have lost more than 100 trees in the last few days. New trees will be planted in their place. But it will be four or five decades before they store as much carbon. Host as much wildlife. Muffle the traffic noise from the A49. The planning system has failed us. It has failed the environment.
This development has been a story of planning failure from start to finish. The initial plans suggested that few trees would be felled. After approval Highways England insisted on a mass felling for visibility splays. Why this was not picked up by council planners, the planning inspector and Highways England at approval stage shows the weaknesses in our planning system.
This tree removal is permitted but is much more extensive than envisaged when the plans from Richborough Estates were approved on appeal to the planning inspectorate.
The application was for approval of access only, with site layout and the number of homes only being indicative, much greater attention should have been given to the access arrangements. Richborough should have done more work on access and Shropshire Council should have employed a highways specialist to challenge the access plans. If that had happened, the inspector might have taken a different view and turned the application down. But the promoter, Richborough Homes, adopted an aggressive tactic. Its legal team concentrated on whether Shropshire Council had a five-year land supply to build enough housing. (This is government requirement.) That exhausted everyone and arguments about the safety of access were marginalised during the public inquiry into the proposals.
No one then knew about the mass slaughter of trees that would be needed to allow the development to happen.
As so often in planning, the path of least resistance was followed. The inspector found in favour of the scheme and Shropshire Council would not go to the high court to challenge his flawed approval.
Now we have lost hundreds of trees in an age of climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis. It will decades before the replacment trees the developer plans to plant mature. Until then, we store less carbon and do little for biodiversity.
We need more homes but we must build them in a way that respects our environment. That means knowing about the impact of developments as the beginning, not when it it is too late to challenge them.