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The trees bordering the allotments to be removed

In December the Planners decided that COLPAI had not made a strong enough case to discharge condition 5 relating to the retention of the trees bordering the allotments and referred the issue to a full Planning and Transportation Committee which was held on Tuesday 28 February. COLPAI application to discharge the condition was approved.

The Golden Baggers, objection the application were represented by Anna Parkinson and Jacqueline Swanson. Our resident Councillor, Sue Pearson was allowed to speak on the matter but not vote as the Standards Committee deemed her to have a pecuniary interest. She made the following declaration before presentations were made:

COUNCILLOR SUE PEARSON - declaration

"I declare a pecuniary interest that the Standards Committee seems to think I have in the discharge of a condition about four trees and their proposed felling, the subject of agenda item 10.

I have been granted a dispensation to speak on this item, thanks to the Court having required the Standards Committee to allow resident councillors to do what they were elected to do.

I have, however, been denied a dispensation to vote on this item, although it has no pecuniary consequence for anyone.

In any other local authority, my speaking and voting on a declared interest in these circumstances would simply not be an issue. I think this decision of the Standards Committee is very unfair, particularly as there is no appeal against it. This committee effectively controls how resident councillors vote. That is not democracy."

Below the presentations (with accompanying slides) made by Anna and Jacqueline for the Baggers and questions posed and arguments made by Cllr Sue Pearson, Cllr Graeme Harrower  and Cllr Mark Bostock supporting the objection. Some useful documents referred to:

You can also see the full Agenda online (item 10)

 

ANNA PARKINSON - presentation

"Good Morning. I am Anna Parkinson and I have lived in Hatfield House for over 16 years. This is the view from our balcony.  I’ve been involved with the Golden Baggers Community growing project for around 9 years and Jacqueline and I have met the City Surveyors separately representing their interests.

 

I would like to address the issues of omission or factual inaccuracy in the applicant’s submission.

This extract from the application letter of 26 October 2018 advises that the PBA design (of 2017) illustrates congestion of service routes alongside and below the trees.

 

However, the applicant agreed to Condition 5 in July 2018, having already given their undertaking to the Golden Baggers that they would do everything to save the trees.

 

The consultation process during the original application resulted in huge support for the retention of the trees and a successful campaign resulted in a petition of over 1000 signatures.

 

The obvious solution would therefore be to look at ways to relocate the service trench.

These diagrams show the routes designed to service the building by the trees.  Alternatives are possible, both to remove this service trench completely, including running services within Basterfield Mews (the contractor has just dug a trench to service the site along Basterfield Mews, so we know this is possible).  Equally the area below the bin stores could be utilised for a service trench and the area alongside the trees could have a permeable surface and a sustainable urban drainage system could be implemented here.

These diagrams illustrate alternative viable routes for services, which could be implemented at no additional cost to the contract and arguably create a more viable layout for the kitchen.  These internal reorganisations would have minimal impact on this elevation and would be de minimus in planning terms.

We would have hoped that the applicant had instructed their consultants to carry out this exercise and think creatively in the light of the consultation process and Condition 5 but they have produced no evidence to show this was done.

I can run through these options in more detail in questions at the end of the presentation.

Turning to the section drawing on page 7 of the January 2019 Options testing report.  The applicant has chosen to show the worst case situation -  though not labelled this drawing appears to indicate the canopy of the cherry tree.  The silver birch trees have a higher canopy of between 12 and 15m, and the school hall.5.5m, so these trees need not be pruned so extensively.  We believe the service trench could be removed from this area completely as just discussed.  The pile cap illustrated here is actually placed between the trees in the plans we have been shown, so this drawing does not accurately illustrate the final proposed built form.

Given time constraints, here are some quick observations on the Applicant’s January 2019 Option Testing document, which we circulated yesterday:

Page 7

  • 4.7 If betterment is suggested why are fewer trees being proposed in this location? 3 similar trees in place of 4, of 3 different varieties
  • 4.8 Where is the evidence that the tree roots ‘are particularly delicate?

Option 3 - Moving Location of School Hall in particular is wholly incorrect.

  • 4.10 Factually incorrect; figure 2.1 on page 5 of the same document indicates that the Root Protection Area of T1 encroaches marginally on the school hall and T4 only tangentially.  The school hall would NOT need to move by a MINIMUM of 4m. Please consider this point carefully when making your decision.
  • 4.12 All the bullet points listed here are negated by my argument above and conflated to dramatise the severity of the impact.
  • No more of the flats in Basterfield House would be affected by potential daylight and sunlight impacts if the school hall was moved marginally.  Indeed some would be better off.
  • And there would be no need to reduce the number of trees in the site generally.

 

Page 10, Option 5 Moving the M&E routes 

  • 4.18 Is whollly incorrect as illustrated in the earlier slides.  The service rooms could be closer to the main school building.
  • The delays listed could have been avoided as the applicant was aware of the proposed location of the school hall at the time they agreed to the conditions on 19 July 2018

I wanted to touch on the ecologist’s comments the bat survey submitted by the objectors in the applicant’s letter of 7 January 2019.  The survey equipment was detailed in our report, which was carried out by the Technical advisor to the Friends of City Gardens. His survey work helps deliver the City’s Biodiversity Action plan and he is soon to provide a seminar on ‘Bats in the City’ to the City’s Planning Team."

COUNCILLOR MARK BOSTOCK - questions

Cllr Bostock posed a number of questions to Anna allowing her to both declare her qualifications and elaborate on the options she outlined to relocate the service trench. Anna has been an architect for almost 30 years, 20 of which have been spent on housing schemes, so she is very familiar with the challenges faced by COLPAI AND potential solutions.

 

JACQUELINE SWANSON - presentation

"Good morning. My name is Jacqueline Swanson. I also live on Golden Lane Estate and represent the Golden Baggers.

I’d like to address what Condition 5 actually means as there seems to be some wildly differing interpretations. I think it’s perfectly understandable for baggers and residents to assume it means the following:

Of course there is the caveat ‘unless otherwise agreed in writing’ however we were pretty shocked to read the Applicant’s definition:

 

That strikes me as a very biased interpretation. And we’re not stupid, we had good reason to believe that the Applicant had every intention to retain the trees as you can see in this email from the City Surveyor following our campaign Anna mentioned and BEFORE the condition was put in place:

These are the Applicants own words and yet somehow their commitment has turned into a ‘discussion’, maybe they can ‘reduce the number proposed’ and what this is really about is the replacement trees. This was a real eye opener and sheds some light on the shortcomings of the so called consultation process and why, despite several requests from the Baggers, an Option testing report was not provided until earlier this month. This only as a result of your committee deciding to bring the decision to today’s full committee meeting. For which we thank you.

Anna has also pointed out several significant errors in the report and the limited nature of the options explored, presented and dismissed. It’s clear the Applicant did not think it necessary to fully investigate.

 

Our campaign in the summer was very specific about why we NEED these trees for the duration of construction and outlined the devastating impact of ripping them out on biodiversity and the health of residents. I don’t need to tell you the negative impacts of pollution on health – childhood asthma, miscarriage, links with early onset Alzheimer’s etc

 

The campaign also cited Islington Planning Policy, Islington Tree Policy and the Finsbury Local Plan and clearly was of sufficient merit and gravitas to result in Condition 5 being applied.

 

Accepted research indicates that the best mitigation against pollution is trees, and not singular trees, but a green corridor. The proffered replacement trees do not materialise until AFTER the construction is complete – probably two years later. They also lack the biodiversity of the current trees, all home to myriad wildlife. This weekend we took part in the RSPB national bird watch – in a single hour we saw at least 10 different species of birds.

 

The Applicant focuses on the quality of the trees – but this has not changed since the condition was put in place so why is it relevant to this decision?

And as for escalating costs and delayed schedule, I’m no expert but I don’t understand these to be planning issues.

 

These are issues to do with the scheme itself and the problems inherent in delivering it. Planning permission was granted because of the desperate need for social housing, NOT because it is a good design. This is reflected in the significant number of conditions attached. Of the 67 conditions 31 will profoundly affect residents and the Golden Lane neighbourhood. Surely we are entitled to expect that the community be properly consulted and the spirit of any Conditions adhered to?

 

In October 2018 the City Surveyor contacted the Baggers to say they were having problems ‘retaining all the trees’, the implication being some could and would be retained. We entered into communications in good faith and with pragmatism. All trees are not equal and we had already accepted that one tree (T1) may have to be removed for health and safety reasons. But where is the evidence of real serious effort to change the construction management plan to retain the rest of the existing trees?

 

We feel we were mislead, kept in the dark, fobbed off and unduly pressurised when we were told that if we did not provide a ‘list of requirements’ by 30 November then it would be taken that we weren’t interested in mitigation. This is not true, we were not however, prepared to be exploited to support their application.

The City Surveyors have acted as if it is an absolute given that the trees would be removed. This speaks to a deeply ingrained culture of arrogance. The world is changing and this is no longer acceptable. It is essential that the Applicant is reminded that expediency does not trump due process.

 

We hope you will refuse this application to discharge this condition and ask the Applicant to exercise a little imagination and willing so as to retain the trees, an essential green corridor in protecting the precious wild life and the health and well being of the resident community.

 

We thank you for your time and consideration."

COUNCILLOR GRAEME HARROWER - questions and speech

 

"I am going to put to you three facts. My question will then be simply whether those facts are true. The relevance of the facts and my question will become apparent in the debate.

 

Fact 1: At a meeting on 28 June 2018, held among a member of the City Surveyor’s department, the Golden Baggers (the Golden Lane allotment group) and a representative of the contractor, three months after this Committee approved the COLPAI planning application, technical issues about preserving the trees were discussed, and no insurmountable obstacle to their preservation was identified.

 

Fact 2: On 2 July 2018 (four days later), the same member of the City Surveyor’s department sent an email to a representative of the Golden Baggers announcing that he had gained approval for the trees to be preserved in the course of the redevelopment of the site (and on 19 July 2018 the preservation of the trees was made the subject of a planning condition).

 

Fact 3: At a meeting on 18 October 2018, held more three and a half months after that email was sent, a member of the City Surveyor’s department and a representative of the contractor informed the Golden Baggers that the trees could not be preserved.

 

My question is simply: are those facts true? Please answer “yes” or “no”, and if the answer is “yes”, please say which fact you think is not true and why."

 

After consulting briefly, Mr Bradburn answered “yes”.

 

Speech during the debate:

 

"I refer the Committee to page 81, paragraph 22, which states that:

 

“The applicants advise that this [the preservation of the trees] would result in delays to the project, which would delay the school opening and increase cost.”

 

Increased cost for a developer is not a relevant planning consideration. That is not just my view. The City planning officer responsible for this case correctly expressed the same view during the site visit.

 

Delay in a development is also not a relevant planning consideration. That is again not just my view. The City planning officer responsible for this case also correctly expressed the same view during the site visit. The other City planning officer present gamely, but hopelessly, tried to link the statement I have quoted with the education policy, but there is no causality. As revealed in my questions to the Applicant, the Applicant itself caused delay by finding an issue with preserving the trees many months after it could have done so.

 

The paragraph in which the statement I have quoted appears concerns the most extreme mitigation measure of moving the school hall (but not by as much as four metres, as we’ve heard). But there is no need to resort to such extremes.

 

On page 104, paragraphs 2.1 to 2.6, six non-extreme solutions are mooted, one of which was well illustrated by Anna Parkinson in her presentation. There is nothing in the report which indicates that any of these measures has been considered by the Applicant. 

 

This brings me to my final point - I offer a wager of £100 to any member of this Committee (proceeds to go to a charity of the winner’s choice) that if this application is refused, a way will be found both to proceed with the development and to preserve the trees, and thus respect the community.

 

The truth is that the Applicant couldn’t be bothered to find a solution. That is not a valid basis for discharging this condition, as well as increased cost and delay not being relevant planning considerations."

 

OTHER COMMENTS:

 

Councillor Sue Pearson stressed the importance of the trees were to the community and as a wild life habitat and that it was clear that the applicant (the City Corporation) had not properly looked into how they could be saved.

 

Councillor Marianne Fredericks asked that there was full consultation with the City tree specialist and the baggers to ensure there was a good diverse selection of new trees planted not just the three Downy Birches proposed.

 

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