Toilet applications flush out planning support for retention of an important tree

A Salutation to the Urban Street Tree and in praise of Bristol Council’s Planning Department!

We are delighted to be able to record our thanks to Bristol’s planners. Credit and praise when it is due!

Westbury on Trym’s residents have watched with dismay as the centre of the Village has been denuded of trees in recent years. Loudly have they protested through the usual democratic channels (this is Britain!), but to no avail.

They have read a recent Refusal decision 21/04837/F with great joy, which, if adopted, would have resulted in the removal of one of the last important trees in Westbury on Trym Village.

There are still two Planning Applications in the Village, as yet undecided, which would see the felling of even more trees to make way for housing, if adopted. Housing is important, but we so often see a wipe out of trees on a Development Site, and then some kind of a questionable plan to replace trees lost, usually with tiny trees, even shrubs and hedges, on the small piece of land remaining; or a young tree planted up to a mile away from the development site. Don’t forget – those trees planted will be replacements. Do not count them as extending the canopy – they are (eventually) replacing lost canopy.

Feelings in the Village are still running high over the events at a recent site on Canford Lane – 18/01087/F. The loss of a TPO tree was inevitable if consent was granted – which it was. However, it was made a condition of the development that a tree was planted on site as a replacement. (When TPO trees are lost it is a legal requirement to replace them within 5 metres of the lost tree. There are caveats, but too many to describe here).

Planners described the development as being unacceptable without the planting of a replacement tree. Eventually there was no room on the site left to plant a tree. The developer offered (!) to plant a tree nearby. There are no vacant tree sites in the Village – that is the problem. After a battle, joined by local Councillors, sufficient funds were paid by the developer to plant a tree in an engineered pit in a pavement opposite the development in question. 20/04903/X. This is probably the last piece of pavement wide enough near the centre of the Village to accommodate a tree. The tree has not been planted yet and we watch and wait.

Now to move on to the Planning Application in question.

Bristol City Council closed down most of the Public WCs. There had been one in Westbury on Trym High Street. The Council sold the building and the land at auction. The piece of land between the rear pavement edge and the front wall of the WC remained in public ownership. On that piece of land grows a Yew Tree. It grows with some of its branches touching the front wall of the toilet block. The building is not a thing of beauty. The Yew Tree has not reached its full potential as a member of its species – but it has become an important tree in the Village. It is highly visible and is now one of the very few trees in Westbury Village. It is thus without doubt an important public visual amenity.

The new owner of the building applied to have the tree felled (they do not own the tree) so that scaffolding could be erected around the Toilet Block, prior to re-development – 20/02348/VC. There were howls of protest expressed on the Planning Portal, and the tree earned itself a Tree Preservation Order – TPO 1406.

A later Application to fell the tree was also refused. 21/01789/VP. This tree was hanging on to its TPO and its life with a very firm grasp.

Months later a third Application was made, this time to develop the site, including felling the tree. Planning Application 21/04837/F

Residents, and the Bristol Tree Forum representative, made many comments on the Planning Portal.

The residents were concerned about about the building itself – design, size, use and quality of accommodation etc., and the loss of the tree.

The BTF local Tree Champion commented upon the possible loss of the tree. It was a highly visible public visual amenity with a TPO. It should not be ignored. The Developer had offered to replace it with two trees. The BTF commentator noted that it is a legal requirement to replace a TPO tree, so replacements could not be considered an “offer”. (It is more usually called an “Undertaking”). The BTF commentator said that there were no vacant “ordinary” sites nearby to plant any trees anyway, even if permission for the development was granted. The nearest site was some distance away and in a side street. At the very least, if the Planning Department was minded to give consent to the development, then two trees should be planted nearby in engineered pits (much more expensive) and there was no room nearby for those either. There are also planning policies (BCS9) (DM17) to retain trees wherever possible, and make the development fit around the trees on a site, not just fell them willy-nilly with no consideration to preserving them.

The Application has been refused. The loss of the tree and the inability to have it replaced nearby are major factors in that refusal. It is worth reading the Officer Report and the Refusal in full. It brought tears of joy to our eyes!

This section of the Planning Officer’s report was music to our ears:

The Council Officer writes so much it really is worth reading it for yourselves (we have highlighted the key passages):

There is not a wasted word. Even if you are not an avid reader of Planning Decisions and do not make comments upon those proposals that will affect trees, you are someone who has some regard for trees because you are reading this, and you will enjoy this dissertation.

The Officer made comments about how it could be accommodated in any future designs of a new building on the site.

It is such a shame that we keep having to fight battles to save trees that everyone recognises are important, that everyone wants to see, but developers always think should be “somewhere else”.

The BTF says Thank you Bristol Planning Department for this decision

Stephanie French

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