Neighbours go bats as developers set their axemen on trees

Further complaints about the council’s planning department suggest that they are reluctant to apply enforcement action, whether in Purley or South Croydon, as KEN LEE reports

Croydon Council has declared a climate emergency, yet continues to receive sponsorship and to support the expansion of Gatwick Airport.

The axeman cometh: despite not having planning permission, contractors yesterday felled several trees in this Higher Drive garden

Croydon Council says it wants to be carbon neutral by 2030, yet remains an enthusiastic customer of incinerator operators Viridor.

And Croydon Council says it is planting more trees around the borough to counter the effects of climate change, and yet its planning department allows this to happen…

The photographs (right and elsewhere in this article) were taken at Higher Drive, Purley, yesterday, were several mature trees were felled – despite the owner of the property having not been granted planning permission.

The property is on Higher Drive, what should be by now a familiar battleground between profit-hungry developers and existing residents, with Croydon Council usually tending to side with the developers, for reasons most can only speculate about. There’s been no suggestion that any of the developers involved with this proposed scheme are married to members of Croydon Council’s planning department, as has been the case with other, similar projects in the area.

90A Higher Drive is a four-bedroom familiar house similar to many in the area. The property’s owners, Appledorn Developments, of Scarborough, want to knock it down and build an ugly great block that would accommodate nine three-bed flats.

For developers, nine is the magic number – build nine or fewer new homes, and there is no legal or planning regulation requirement upon them to deliver any affordable housing. So it is all sweet profit. Nine large flats in this part of leafy Purley could have a market value of more than £3million.

So much for Croydon Council’s green credentials. This eco-vandalism was conducted yesterday – no one expects the planning department to take any action

Appledorn’s planning application has been subject to 45 objections on the council’s planning portal.

There is also an arboricultural report which was commissioned by the applicants – as they are required to do – which looked at the beech, ash, cedar and lime trees on the site strongly recommends the preservation of 11 of the 22 trees on the site.

One of the trees is, in any case, to subject to a TPO, a tree preservation order, and must not be touched.

Yet when the axeman cometh yesterday, among his victims were trees which the developers’ own arboricultural report had stated should be preserved.

The developers appeared to have ignored their tree expert’s report in other important ways, too: “Tree work should as far as possible avoid the bird nesting season which officially is from February until August.” Someone needs to get Appledorn a calendar.

The expert report for the developers of 90A Higher Drive instructed them to conduct a bat survey before any felling, and not to conduct felling in the bird-nesting season. Both recommendations appear to have been ignored

They also appear to have ignored the expert’s advice to get the trees inspected for bats. “Bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981… and it is an offence to deliberately or recklessly disturb them or damage their roosts”.

Residents are, as ever, outraged. They have justifiable concerns about a neighbouring site, which is currently a copse full of trees, wildlife, including bats and protected bird species. The copse is understood to be being considered by a developer for a similar block of flats.

Following yesterday’s eco-vandalism at 90A Higher Drive, Lolade Onabolu, the chair of the Foxley Residents Association, wrote to the council’s planning department demanding action.

A CGI of the developers’ proposals for 90A Higher Drive. Notice how their architects have ‘enhanced’ the scale of the trees, presumably to help diminish the mass of the new building

“We submitted our comments in respect of this application and as far as we are aware, this application is yet to be decided.  However, the developer has proceeded to cut down trees on the site including trees marked T3 -T6 in the submitted arboricultural survey and indicated as trees which could be retained,” Onabolu wrote.

The Residents’ Association suspects that the trees have been axed to create more space for an expanded development. “This is either a flagrant disregard of due planning process or indication that the developer has been given tacit approval of the plan.

“Either way, this puts the entire planning process into disrepute.”

And if they expect the council’s planning department to take any punitive action against the developers responsible, they really ought not hold their breath.

Sorry sight: The View in South Croydon. The council has taken no action

Take the example of the View pub in South Croydon, bought up by a different firm of developers who were so keen to turn their investment into profit that they sent in the demolition team – despite not having planning permission. Only when alerted by concerned neighbours did the council planning department send someone along to check out what was going on and put a halt to the demolition.

To this day, no planning permission has been granted, and the old pub stands derelict, its roof stripped away, its owners presumably waiting for it to deteriorate into such a state of collapse that they will be allowed to finish the job. No penalties for breaking planning law have ever been brought against the developers in this case – and they did their little act of illegal destruction to The View in… 2017.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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7 Responses to Neighbours go bats as developers set their axemen on trees

  1. Anthony Mills says:

    With regards to trees, unless they are protected by a TPO, by pre-existing planning conditions, are in a Conservation Area, or by the requirement to obtain a Forestry Commission Felling Licence if more than 5m3 is to be felled on the site in any 3 months, there are no penalties available, or permissions required.
    Which is why it is the frequent practice of unscrupulous developers to go into a site and fell any trees that will interfere with their plans before any application for permission is made.
    The arboricutural report[s] has no legal standing until incorporated in the planning permission conditions.
    TPO regulations do not allow for pre-emptive protection of individual or groups of trees from only the likelihood of development in an area [which many professional arbs would dearly love to see], and Tree Officers under the ”expediency” test can only act when there is an actual threat to a potential public amenity.
    This may become apparent from any pre-planning consultations, if the developer institutes them, but often the pre-emptive felling occurs before those.
    And as a final limitation, only trees which are a Public Amenity – that is visible from a public place, which if in a back garden they may not be – can be protected with a TPO in advance of any development threat. Planning conditions which can protect trees not visible to the public only do so after planning permission is granted.
    The planning system as is without doubt favours development rather than existing trees, though responsible developers do not behave in this way, recognising how much value, both financial and ecological, mature trees add to a site.
    But profits, as usual, often trump such integrity.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Excellent overview from Anthony.
    A further problem regarding trees occurs after planning permission has been granted.
    A Planning Permission often specifically requires a landscape scheme to be implemented asa condition of Planning Permission, and that all the new trees on the drawing are to be maintained for at least 5 years.

    Sounds great, except where the owner decides to bring in the tree fellers on day 1 of the 6th year.
    This very thing happended around 10 years ago in Waddon, where a certain storage company with premises on Stafford Road had all the new trees felled within a week or two after expiry of the 5 years. Cynical and deeply wrong ! But not, apparently, illegal !

    I followed this up with the key councillors and council tree officers. The company refused to replace the felled trees or even talk about the felling (I asked them to do so) . The council were unable to help, although officers and councillors tried.

    My conclusion is that —if the Council decide to give Planning permission subject to a landscape scheme , it must mean that -without the landscaping–the project is unacceptable. It is only the landscape that makes the project acceptable.

    Therefore, in my view, the trees and landscape scheme as drawn up should be protected and maintained for he WHOLE LIFE of the building or project. Thus, a realistic “life” should be identified and stated as part of the planning permaission–eg 50 years, so the trees would be kept for at least 50 years. This would allow the council’s intentions to be fulfiiled into the future.

  3. Anthony Mills says:

    Excellent idea, Mr White, I wish! Management and cultivation of trees post-planting is frequently woefully lacking and not just on new developments. The average success rate of street tree planting is about 50% and the average lifespan is 15 years…. It’s a very hard environment, usually in more senses than one, and developments are very similar. Even Forestry Commission planting grants have similar timescales. If the planning system could be changed to lead in imposing long-term requirements for protection and maintenance, or if these fail, replacement, it may set a standard elsewhere. There is one instance where longer timescales do apply. TPO’s requiring replacement trees if felling of the original tree is permitted continue no matter how many times any replacement fails and has to be replaced in turn. The TPO persists even if the tree doesn’t. Bureaucracy outlives us all…

  4. Lewis White says:

    Thanks Anthony, so perhaps all trees included in new landscape projects should be protected by a TPO, maybe a new form of TPO …. let’s call it an PDTPO Post development TPO . This would distinguish it from a normal TPO.

    I discussed this a while back with a local authority Planning Officer ( I think this was a Surrey council) who said that this would probably be deemed too restrictive on future owners of a site.
    I see the point, to a degree. Another Tree Officer I spoke with, in a London Borough nearer to the middle of London, was of the view that TPO’s should be used more widely, to ensute that the trees don’t suffer from the fate of those nice silver birches , which were growing so well, alongside Stafford Road Waddon.

    The more I think about it, the more cynical, outrageous and environment – negating that felling was. All done, probably, to maximise exposure of the building and the outsize banner advertising on the front. Flagrant, and a huge finger up to the planning democratic process.

    I think I will contact the owners and see if they would be prepared to make up for their sins by planting some new ones. I wonder if they are loyal readers of Inside Croydon?

    And, I really must take up the automatic PDTPO idea with our own council, and maybe with the Royal Town Planning Institute. Your TPO idea is well worth raising.

  5. Anthony Mills says:

    I was told, about 30 years ago, that the average cost of the legal aspects [ie the solicitors drafting of the order] of a TPO, never mind any other administrative costs, was about £800. [Given that 10 years ago a solicitor charged my Dad £500 for 20 minutes work to sign and witness a Power of Attorney document that can be bought in WH Smith for a few quid, that’s no surprise]. No idea what that might be now. But it might help to explain why not as many of them are made as could be…especially as the cost of development TPO’s as you describe them, Lewis, would most likely have to be borne by the developer.

  6. Lewis White says:

    We clearly need to make tree protection cheaper, so maybe the best way would be for a national policy change , to extend the normal period of protection from 5 to 25 years for any tree planted as part of a landscape scheme required as part of a Planning Permission. I have recently requested a London council to consider a TPo for a group of trees in a prominent town centre site, so I hope that that council has funds available to fund the TPO, if (as I hope) they agree that a TPO is the right solution.

  7. Steve Oram says:

    Very interesating thread. There is a government consultation on mitigation and compensation in the planning system on its way soon. I hope you both have the time to contribute. Feel free to contact me at PTES (I’m the orchard biodiversity department) if you want to chat. I frequently have to deal with the weaknesses in the TPO system and feel it deperately needs reform.

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