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‘High quality’ tree in the way of house plan

Councillors have been asked to approve a tree preservation order on a specimen in a garden where there are plans to build a three-bedroom detached property.

The mature copper beech, within the grounds of 51, Lawton Avenue, Alsager, has been described as “high quality’ by tree experts at Cheshire East Council, whose head of planning had recommended that it should not be felled because it was in an area of town that did not benefit from extensive tree cover.

The beech would be removed to make way for the new property, the plans for which had been submitted by applicant Judith Beardsall.

An assessment of the copper tree by the council established that it contributed “significantly” to the amenity and landscape character of the surrounding area.

As a result a tree preservation order was found to be justified and was approved in December by the council under powers delegated by the head of planning.

But two objections to the order were then made, one by James Kilkenny Architects, the applicant’s agent, and another from a neighbouring property.

In their objections the agent cited that no information had been supplied as to the methodology of the tree assessment from a public place. They said the beech was not proposed for formal protection prior to the submission of the planning application.

The agent pointed out that if the tree was “appreciable” then the preservation order should have been awarded earlier, adding “no reference was made to the tree during pre-application discussions suggesting no obvious, appreciable or significant amenity”.

The neighbour objected to the order because of damage caused by tree roots including the garage floor being “lifted”, drains had to be replaced 20 years ago due to roots in the pipes, and because beech nuts and leaves had to be swept daily and that leaves blocked gutters.

They also mentioned that the property was built in 1876, before the “offending” tree was planted.

The response to the objections, from David Malcolm, Cheshire East’s head of planning, appeared in his report to the Southern Planning Committee, which was due to make a decision on the Tree Preservation Order yesterday (Wednesday).

In respect of the agent’s concerns, Mr Malcolm said an amenity evaluation
checklist and tree evaluation method for preservation orders (Tempo) assessment were undertaken following the agent’s expressed intention to remove the tree in December.

He added: “Regrettably, a copy of the checklist was not supplied at the time of the service of the tree preservation order due to an update to the IT system, which removed the option for the document to be formatted for public sharing.”

Copies of the two have since been shared with both objectors.

Mr Malcolm’s report explained that such orders were not routinely made unless there was a known risk to that amenity being lost.

It explained: “The tree was not understood to have been at threat from development prior to submission of the full planning application.”

It was noted that while pre-application advice was sought, specific tree advice from the council was not requested.

The report included Government planning guidance on the visibility of trees, which stated: “The extent to which the trees or woodlands can be seen by the public will inform the authority’s assessment of whether the impact on the local environment is significant. The trees, or at least part of them, should normally be visible from a public place, such as a road or footpath, or accessible by the public.”

Responding to the neighbour’s objection, Mr Malcolm said that they had been encouraged to provide evidence to demonstrate the damage to the garage floor, but none had been provided to justify the loss of the tree other than to accommodate development.

As far as drain damage was concerned, his response was that although they might have contained tree roots, given the age of the property “it is likely that the drains would have become inevitably compromised over time”.

Further, Mr Malcom’s report said leaf loss of mature trees could not be avoided, and that the homeowner was responsible for maintenance of guttering and roofing on individual properties.

He also said that the council was under no obligation to notify a tree owner that an application to make a tree preservation order had been made, as this could often result in pre-emptive felling of important trees, which may be considered by an owner to restrict land sale or development.

The felling of a white poplar tree on the land was accepted by the council due to its age although there were two objections – from a resident of Rowan Close and the other from Alsager Town Council.

The resident described the white popular as one of only two growing in the town and that it stood “as a silent sentinel proudly watching over us, as we develop and grow, reminding us of the ‘green-tunnels’ which used to crown the streets and lanes of Alsager”.

Cheshire East Council is yet to make a decision about the plan for the property in the garden even though the application was submitted more than a year ago.

A decision target date has been given of next Friday (15th March).

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