Sutton LibDems’ ‘green’ credentials have been exposed again as bogus, as they have ordered the destruction of hundreds of trees in a nature reserve, just when the wild birds are nesting for spring. BELLE MONT reports
More despair looms for the long-suffering conservationists and concerned residents of Hackbridge, as chainsaw gangs last week felled at least 160 trees on the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve.
This work has cleared the way for laying pipework to connect the Viridor incinerator to the Felnex housing estate, the first customer for the controversial Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, or SDEN.
This ecological vandalism was especially surprising, as SDEN – a company wholly owned by Sutton Council – has a planning application pending to alter the route that the pipeline will take through the nature reserve.
Critics of the scheme are asking how these trees could have been felled at a time when the final path of the pipeline was not known, as planning permission has not been given. It will be considered by Sutton’s planning committee tomorrow.
The tree felling has taken place in the nature reserve during the bird-nesting season, something that the planning documents reveal the council and SDEN were both fully aware.
A letter from SDEN’s consultants, Eneteq Services, made the time constraints particularly clear. It said: “As you will be aware, the bird nesting season is fast approaching and the requirement to fell trees is becoming increasingly critical as we approach March 2018.
“It is becoming increasingly urgent for us to carry out the necessary tree felling to accommodate the SDEN district heating pipework as detailed in the above drawing and we require your instruction to proceed no later than Tuesday 20th February 2018.
“If this deadline is missed we will be left in a situation whereby no trees can be felled due to the bird nesting season which commences in March. It should be noted that as every day passes, as a result of this delay, there is an increased risk of birds nesting within the trees located along the proposed SDEN district heating pipework route.
“We also note that we have been advised that the bird nesting season should come to an end in August/September 2018. In the event that the deadline of 20th February 2018 is missed, the next suitable time to commence will be towards the end of the summer months.”
So that’s pretty clear: no tree felling from March till the end of summer, and no disruptive work possible during this time to protect wildlife.
Nontheless, SDEN and Sutton Council allowed the chainsaws to fire up.
SDEN was created by Sutton to help make a commercial case for building the industrial-scale waste incinerator in the middle of what was promised to be turned into a country park. The by-product of burning millions of tons of rubbish – heat – is to be flogged off at a fixed, and inflated, price to residents in a Barratt housing scheme at Hackbridge.
Despite the fact that the route for the pipes had not been finalised, Sutton Council still managed to issue a press release on March 6 claiming that underground pipes had been installed, with images of Sutton’s great and good posing in front of the pipes, shovels in hand.
In the photos is Simon Woodward, of Woodward Energy Consulting.
Until last summer Woodward was a director of SDEN, but new tax rules caused him to resign as managing director, although essentially he has carried on doing the same job, effectively a “shadow director”. In a wonderful stroke of fortune, on March 8, Woodward’s own company won a £125,000 contract to provide “Project Management and Commercialisation Services” to SDEN for the next phases of its development. Cushty.
(You can see the official council report of that decision here).
The officer’s report to tomorrow night’s planning committee states that Sutton Council’s senior biodiversity officer, David Warburton, has declared that the changes to the route of the pipeline would result in fewer trees being felled and would allow for better planning of replanting and conservation measures after the pipes had been laid.
The report says: “The Arboricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) states that the proposed route will reduce the number of the proposed tree removals from the approved route… the proposed route would involve the removal of a greater proportion of trees of moderate value. The removal of these category B trees from the site will require compensatory replacement tree-planting to mitigate the impact on visual amenity.”
How this view fits in with the fact that so many trees have already been felled is anyone’s guess, with difficult questions of whether extra trees now have to be felled, and whether some trees have been cut down unnecessarily.
SDEN’s rush to avoid the bird-nesting season has created an assumption that planning will be granted.
The planning documents also state that the proposed route changes affect the “majority of the pipeline”, so it would be misguided to begin felling without knowing the precise route.
Warburton seems to forget that Viridor – the incinerator operators, who are in charge of the land, and to whom the original planning consent for the pipeline route was granted – has a long history of playing the planning game, usually to the detriment of the environment. They have already reneged on numerous planning conditions to restore the wetlands at Beddington Farmlands.
In 2015, the Local Government Ombudsman ordered Sutton Council to “discharge the relevant conditions without delay” to bring Viridor into line on its restoration commitments. That Ombudsman’s instruction has yet to be fully implemented by the council.
Interestingly, although the planning officer’s report refers to Warburton’s biodiversity report, that report itself is not published on the council website. Only the officer interpretation is provided.
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In addition to the lack of planning permission, if a single nest, even part-built, had been disturbed or destroyed an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has been committed. Penalty : unlimited fine, six months in prison, or both. Here is a link to the form on the RSPB’s site, where you can report this potential crime. Good Luck . . .
How many more trees will bite the dust when the route is changed, I hope they are planting trees elsewhere on site to compensate .