Eco 2022: Plea to stop trees being felled in back gardens

Figures show Town Hall gave go-ahead for dozens to get chop

Friday, 7th January — By Harry Taylor

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Peter Symonds

THE Town Hall is being urged to take action on the number of trees being cut down in back gardens – as figures show officials rejected less than 2 per cent of requests to fell or carry out work on species that offer an environmental lifeline over the past year.

Some 189 trees were the subject of applications in the past 15 months up to mid-December, including the loss of 82 trees. Just three were rejected, with claims by the Combined Residents Association of South Hampstead (CRASH) that trees which aren’t on streets are given less protection by the council.

Peter Symonds, the former chair of CRASH and head of its tree committee, said: “It’s two things: it’s the environment and what it’s doing to the look of the area. The trees in back gardens are seen by just as many people who see street trees, because if you think, houses here are cut up into flats with multiple occupation.”

He added: “That’s a huge number, and to lose them is devastating. But it’s what is happening to the environment that is at the top of the CRASH reasons. We’ve got a council and a Government that have said they’re going to be more environmentally friendly, but they’re not with this. It’s madness.

“If we go on the way we are going, the area will become a desert, because nobody has any justifiable reason for keeping trees.

Developers and insurance companies are the worst culprits. The fact is, trees in back gardens should be protected as much as trees in front gardens.”

He also fears that the character of the area will be lost if more trees are cut down.

“The South Hampstead Conservation Area was dubbed the gardens area,” said Mr Symonds.

“It’s not just called that because of the roads, but because of the huge swathes of gardens with trees. It’s one of the great delights of the area.”

He said that Camden’s tree preservation order (TPO) list is out of date and includes trees that have since been felled.

Camden’s regeneration chief Danny Beales

In a deputation given to Camden’s culture and environment scrutiny committee in December, Mr Symonds listed the varieties of trees to have been cut down in the period, ranging from the common London plane trees to the more exotic tree of heaven.

He and fellow committee member Eric Peel presented a list of changes to planning laws they want the council to lobby the government on. The meeting, held virtually, also heard that Camden’s tree department only has two tree officers for the whole borough.

Elizabeth Beaumont, Camden’s appeals and enforcement manager, told the meeting: “We do try and do what we can to save trees when we’re assessing applications, but we are bound by legislation.

“It says trees should normally be ‘visible from a public place, such as a road or footpath’. We agree that. . . the guidance gives us doesn’t give enough ability to place weight on sustainability.”

Mr Symonds, 79, welcomed the council’s agreement to lobby the Government but was wary of them not taking proper action to protect trees. “It’s not just Camden, but they pay lip service to it. How long does it take to get this moving? We’ve made suggestions about how the Town and Country Planning Act could be changed to make all the difference, but we need to see action. These things do get forgotten.”

Camden should be more flexible, added Mr Symonds. Its record of refusing only three tree work applications out of 189 was “just not realistic”.

Labour councillor Danny Beales, Camden’s regeneration chief, said: “Camden Council is planting a record number of new trees and we are committed to giving greater protection to our existing trees, too. We are, however, currently held back from going as far as we would like by the restrictive legal powers that the govern­ment have given us.”

He added: “The legislation and guidance governing the protection of trees is out of date. For example, whilst we can consider all the benefits of trees as part of a planning application, when we are considering the loss of a tree outside this process, we are heavily constrained.

“We will be writing to the relevant government departments making recommendations for changes to legislation and guidance and would welcome the support of residents and community groups in this process.”

 

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