Shocking treatment of Lower Ashley Road trees shows urgent need for Bristol Planning rethink

Bristol has declared a climate emergency. There is an urgent need for all council departments to re-think the way that they work.


At the time of writing, four of the trees in this image have been felled (two Norway Naples and two Indian Bean trees on a different plot).  The value of the five maple trees along Lower Ashley Road was calculated at £200,000 using CAVAT.  Local residents are desperately trying to save the three remaining maples.

This blog discusses six changes that are desperately needed to protect trees on development sites.

  • Planning Decisions regarding important or TPO trees should be considered by committee and not delegated to one officer.
  • It is practically impossible for local residents and other stakeholders to wade through all planning documents online. Planning Officers must highlight important tree issues and have a duty of care to act positively in favour of trees.
  • Bristol should implement policies to retain trees on development sites in the way that has been done in London, Oxford and elsewhere. This includes enforcement and a presumption to retain trees at the edge of development sites.
  • An emergency number to address immediate tree felling issues. 
  • It is a false choice to say that we can either have social housing or trees. With clever designs, we can retain existing trees and have better social housing.
  • Replacing felled trees, even when applying the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard, is second best to retaining existing large urban trees. We get the benefits from existing trees now – we have to wait decades for their replacements to grow.

Over the last six months there have been half a dozen articles in the local press and now one Guardian article about the shocking planning decision to allow removal of five Norway maple trees with Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) on Lower Ashley Road, one of the most polluted streets in Bristol. There have been two meetings with the mayor who also visited the site and there is now a vigil by protesters on the site: police have been called on several occasions. All this indicates a planning process that has marginalised local residents and failed to take into account the value of the trees.

The Bristol Tree Forum appreciates the efforts by Mayor Marvin Rees to try and resolve the situation after the event. He visited the site and then convened two meetings in City Hall which he chaired. We have been impressed by his serious engagement and the way that he has brought all the interested parties into the room and handled the discussion. But, as we think he would agree, this is the wrong way around. Discussions such as this should happen before the planning decisions are taken so that there is community engagement in the decision making.

Planning Decisions regarding important or TPO trees should be considered by committee and not delegated to one officer

That we have got to this stage shows a serious failure of both Bristol City Council Planning policy and its implementation. The decision to remove the trees was taken in 2015/16 by one planning officer as a reserved decision. It did not go for to the Planning Development committee for a considered decision. Looking over the documents it doesn’t seem that any time or thought was given to the trees. The Arboricultural Report provided by the developer does not even state whether the trees had TPOs, and indeed there is no discussion of the TPOs in any of the documents in that planning application, with the only mention on the “constraints” page. In 2015, The Bristol Tree Forum commented in opposition to the proposal but even the BTF was unaware that the trees had TPOs. Whilst BCC insists that the decision was “valid”, without a mention of the TPOs there was insufficient information to allow intelligent consideration of the proposal, so we question that decision. Sufficient information for intelligent consideration is one of the fundamental principles of a “proper consultation” as decided by Lord Woolf*. The first mention of the TPOs in a document is in the Officer’s Report outlining the delegated decision. 

Unfortunately this is not an isolated failure: trees all over Bristol are being unnecessarily sacrificed as a result of applying ideology from the 1960s. For example a single planning officer gave the green light for the removal of some 25 trees on the Redland Girls School site, in a conservation area, despite the fact that the removal is purely for landscaping.

Redland Green Trees: damage to tree roots caused by driving construction vehicles over them can result in the eventual failure of the trees. In a failure of planning, no root protection zones or Arboricultural Methods Statements were ever established for these trees, despite permission being given for the construction company to store materials on Redland Green.
It is practically impossible for local residents and other stakeholders to wade through all planning documents on line.  Planning Officers must highlight important tree issues and have a duty of care to act positively in favour of trees

Important tree issues need to be highlighted and openly discussed during the planning process. Planning Officers already implement policy regarding flood risk, traffic management and other construction matters. The Bristol Tree Forum is asking that tree protection is included too as is done in other local authorities (Examples are Oxford and Islington, below). In addition, trees on or near active development sites must be properly protected.

We see applications with no information on the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard calculations, or obviously incorrect information being supplied. Documents such as these should be rejected by the planning officer.

Redland Green Trees. Permission was given for this TPO Ash tree on Redland Hill to be removed (in addition to several others on the site) to allow articulated lorries to enter the building site. In the event, the gateposts were never widened, articulated lorries didn’t enter the site as this would have been extremely difficult even with gate widening and the tree was retained until Aug 2019, when it was removed anyway.
The Indian Bean trees growing on the next-door site on Lower Ashley Road before they were felled. Together with the Maples nearby, they formed a welcome green oasis in an otherwise treeless urban setting.
All that remains of the Indian Bean trees which were chainsawed following rejection of an application that was refused because the trees were felt important and merited TPOs.  The trees were removed anyway. We are trying to find out why the trees were not then protected with TPOs.
An emergency 24-hour number to address immediate tree felling issues. 

Bristol is at risk of becoming known as a Mad Max world now that unqualified people are wielding chainsaws from ladders above passing pedestrians with no enforcement consequences, often on public holidays, sometimes in the evenings and even at night. A proper approach for addressing this problem needs to be developed in collaboration with the police. It is unfair to send a single tree officer on their own to deal with issues of public order. Multiple phone calls and sometimes hundreds of emails to numerous council departments very quickly overload already overstretched council officers. It is no good passing the buck to the Health and Safety Executive. Therefore we need one emergency Bristol City Council number.

Lower Ashley Road.  Bristol City Council urgently needs to come up with a procedure to address dangerous activities by unqualified people using chainsaws over pavements and roads.
A Maple with the arrow sign captioned ‘here’ pointing at a partially sawn limb : Following complaints over an entire week, this dangerous almost severed branch was only addressed after an article appeared in the Bristol Post.
Trees growing at Cotham School were removed by Skanska (2008) in the afternoon before Good Friday when no enforcement action could be taken.
Bristol should implement policies to retain trees on development sites

Where possible we should build developments around existing trees. There should be a presumption to build around existing trees and particularly to retain trees at the edge of development sites. 

The developer’s arboricultural report for Lower Ashley Road states that “In order to retain the trees within any new scheme, the front of any new building will need to be sited a minimum of ten metres from the existing site boundary”. We have heard this assertion stated by developer and planner as “the ten metre rule”.

There are many examples where mature trees are retained close to new buildings, in London, Oxford and elsewhere. This must become commonplace in Bristol too.  A Trees and Design Action Group article describes the construction of the Angel Building (Islington, London) around existing mature trees. No cowboy chainsawing there. Instead extreme care was taken in a project that was led by landscape architects. For example:

Deliveries needed to be conducted on a daily basis. To enable this, the Tree Protection Plan (TPP) and Arboricultural Method Statement (AMS), developed by appointed tree specialist JCA, in coordination with the project landscape architect and the council tree officer, proposed the use of a porous load-spreading cellular confinement system (Geoweb) braced with timber frames.

All existing trees were irrigated during the two-year construction period following a sporadic pattern imitating rain. Because irrigation was fed with calcium-rich London tap water, the system was fitted with filters to avoid increasing the soil pH.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge visitor Centre (Alec French Architects) in North Somerset, not Bristol, is within 2 metres of an important tree.  The roof line has been cut away to accommodate a branch.
Aurora Building, Counterslip, Bristol.  Energy efficient, outstanding architecture and built extremely close to an existing plane tree.
It is a false choice to say that we can either have social housing or trees. 

Although the 2015/16 planning approval that is being used to justify removal of the trees was for student accommodation, the current proposal, still under consideration, is for social housing that Bristol desperately needs.  We are surprised that, despite this new undecided application, the developer is still able to undertake work under the old approved application which they no longer intend to pursue.  Shouldn’t the slate be wiped clean so we have a chance to revisit the whole plan with the trees still in place rather than be forced to decide without them?

The developer, planners and others have presented a false choice stating either we retain the trees, keep the site derelict and leave 28 families homeless, or we remove the trees. 

These trees are right on the edge of the development site. With clever designs, led by a landscape architect (not even apparent that one has been engaged for this project), and carefully constructed foundations (e.g. screw piling), the developer could build close to the existing trees. The result? Better social housing which benefits from existing green infrastructure and provides a more pleasant environment with some protection from the noise and pollution of this busy road.


  • Lord Woolf MR in R v North and East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan [2001] QB 213, [2000] 3 All ER 850, [108] as follows: whether or not consultation is a legal requirement, if it is embarked upon it must be carried out properly; to be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; adequate time must be given for this purpose; and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken.

Author: BristolTreeForum

We are a group of volunteers dedicated to increasing the tree canopy cover of Bristol.

4 thoughts on “Shocking treatment of Lower Ashley Road trees shows urgent need for Bristol Planning rethink”

  1. Thank you to the Bristol tree forum for such a detailed article. It seems that there are two types of ways of proceeding here. One is to ignore the environment, especially when it becomes ‘a problem’ that gets in the way of maximising a particular development, and the other is to ardently try to protect everything ‘natural’ or at least semi-natural. Whatever ones position it would be better to have a relationship with the other rather than the constant binary arguments. We need a better way of cooperating in all areas of life and this tree ‘problem’ in Lower Ashley road is just another symptom of a lack of relationship between interested groups. Why is it so hard for two sides to come together? Is it because we don’t listen? Do we really want a city deviod of trees? I can’t believe anybody wants that.

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  2. > What is happening to our trees in Bristol is terrible, and these are just examples. There are many others, and more yet in the pipeline.

    > Absolutely agree with your six points, especially the demand for a presumption, a default position, that trees will be retained, not replaced, as a priority on all developments unless it is entirely impossible after every alternative has been properly considered. > I look every day at the older University halls of residence in Stoke Bishop, and how many mature trees were retained there. It is possible and it is more necessary now than it was back when they were built (in the 60s, I think?).

    > As you say, good design principles and ingenuity can reconcile social housing provision with environmental conservation and and it should. Aesthetic considerations are as important for people’s health and wellbeing as are air quality, pollution and linking habitats for wildlife. Trees and their canopies sustain vital parts of the urban environment and support our country’s desperately threatened species, including our vanishing invertebrates.

    > Thank you for an excellent post. A manned emergency phone number is a really good idea, since these incidents are likely to increase, given what we’ve seen in other cities. Worth bearing in mind the coming impact of 5G, which is apparently impeded by foliage…

    > >

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