Hutchinson’s Bank, near New Addington, has a worldwide reputation as a conservation reserve, having been supported at its very beginning by Sir David Attenborough. But that hasn’t stopped the latest dubious scheme from council builders ‘Trick by Trick’. STEVEN DOWNES reports
Brick by Brick has been accused of submitting a false and misleading biodiversity statement in a planning application in which they completely ignored a rare species of butterfly found on the site, just so that they can build another block of flats.
And the London Wildlife Trust, which manages the Hutchinson’s Bank reserve, says that it has never been consulted by Brick by Brick or Croydon Council over a scheme which would build a particularly unprepossessing four-storey block next to the conservation area.
Brick by Brick are fast becoming better known as “Trick by Trick”, and deservedly so. For instance, their planning application for the site at Corbett Close and Fairchildes Avenue describes the site as simply a “roadside verge”.
Yet it is just a few steps away from Green Belt and the entrance to Hutchinson’s Bank, where over the past four decades some world-leading conservation work has been carried out.
Hutchinson’s Bank won its special status just over 30 years ago after a campaign led by Sir David Attenborough.
Hutchinson’s Bank is Green Belt land, a wooded area registered as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. It is reckoned that it is home for at least 40 species of butterfly, possibly as many as 59.
One of them is the very rare small blue.
Another is the near-extinct brown hairstreak.
The brown hairstreak is a protected species under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and is a Section 41 “species of principal importance” under the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. According to Butterfly Conservation, the brown hairstreak is “high priority” for conservation because it “has undergone a substantial decline due to hedgerow removal”.
Which is exactly what Trick by Trick proposes to do when it concretes over the “roadside verge”, with plans to axe trees, clear scrub and chop down hawthorn bushes as it continues to build Block by Block around the borough.
In their planning application, in the section on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation, they have entered false statements about the site, answering “No” to whether the site is home to protected or priority species (there is even an option to admit that the site is adjacent to the home of protected wildlife, but somehow Trick by Trick managed to ignore that, too), and they answered “No” to the question of whether the site has important habitats of other biodiversity features.
The threat to Hutchinson’s Bank’s habitat has drawn objections from across the world and has come to the attention of leading wildlife campaigners including BBC Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams and the Guardian’s wildlife writer Patrick Barkham.
Yesterday, Barkham said, “Incredible that this planning application for new homes has gone in without any reference to protected brown hairstreak butterfly next to this site and almost certainly breeding on it.”
Croydon Council, Barkham said, “should listen to local people and reject the application”.
Trick by Trick was last week bigging up their “environmental” credentials, having signed up to an organisation calling itself the UK Green Building Council. Some wondered whether BxB did so because it is an organisation that encourages building on greens, open spaces and kids’ playgrounds.
When preparing their application for the land alongside Hutchinson’s Bank, Brick by Brick hired a firm of consultants called FOA Ecology Ltd, with the clear intention of them filing a devious report which would deliver exactly the findings that suited their case – just as has happened in Waddon, where Brick by Brick’s environmental consultants justified the axing of a group of healthy ash trees because they will die. Sometime. In the future. Eventually.
With FOA Ecology Ltd, they barely disguise their role in the planning process, and of their writing ecological reports to suit the interests of the developers who pay them.
“With over 20 years ecological consultancy experience,” the blurb on their website fesses up, “we can help you find a solution to your Ecology issues and help you get your planning approval.” (Our italics)
Ignoring the presence of protected wildlife on or near the proposed site would appear to be one of the methods used to “find a solution” to “help get your planning approval”.
Ignoring hard-working conservationists who actually manage an important wildlife reserve just a few steps from the proposed Brick by Brick building site would seem to be another method, as the objection lodged to the application by the London Wildlife Trust makes very clear.
“Overall this application raises a number of concerns for the Trust,” they have written to the planning authority, Croydon Council.
“The application form states that there are no biodiversity implications on or near the site, and yet the proposal results in a net loss of habitat on the site (which might support brown hairstreak, a Species of Principal Importance) and is adjacent to a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (which is referenced in the accompanying Planning and Design and Access Statements).
“Landscaping enhancements do not mitigate for the loss of habitat supporting a Species of Principal Importance, nor go far enough to deflect the ecological character of the environs. We believe this should be addressed as a priority.
“London Wildlife Trust has not been aware of any consultation (Design and Access Statement, 4.1, p34), despite being leaseholders to the adjacent nature reserve. We also note in the D&AS (4.3, p36) that:
“‘There was some concerns about how the proposal would affect existing animal habitats on site. In collaboration with an ecology consultant, the proposal will incorporate landscaping and planting to maintain and improve the current habitat provision. Any development will take measures to avoid damage to existing habitats on site.’
“As long-standing managers of Hutchinson’s Bank… we would have expected some direct approach from the applicant’s ecological consultants for information on the site and our management of it. We had none, which is disappointing as we could have provided some input into the mitigation and planting proposals.”
Somewhat belatedly, Brick by Brick yesterday responded to the mounting criticism and anger over their proposals for this site – though not with a proper (and potentially legally binding) letter or document, but in a more ephemeral, and perhaps attention-seeking, tweet.
Brick by Brick claimed that, “If we gain planning permission we will work hard to protect local flora and fauna.”
They promised to install a few bird boxes and log piles, too, in what they described as “a strategy for net gain in biodiversity”. And they said that they would be “taking advice from the council and conservation organisations”. Which is good of them.
The planning application is with Croydon Council, the local planning authority. Brick by Brick is wholly owned by Croydon Council. Since the company was formed in 2015, not a single planning application by Brick by Brick has been refused by Croydon Council.
- To view the planning application documents for this site, and to read the objections, click here
- For our archive of coverage on Brick by Brick, click here
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For Brick by Brick to say they are taking advice from the Council about conservation is to drive deliberate disingenuousness to a new low.
It is really a comment which insults its readers, but then the whole concept of BxB as independent is an insult to the intelligence!
This Council have a deliberate policy of ignoring all the local residents as far as Planning is concerned, why would a few butterflies bother them?
I have objected to this but are there any petitions ?
One petition with 1,000 signatures counts as a single objection in the planning process.
One thousand objections count as 1,000…
I am currently writing a blog post highlighting the failure of ecology consultancies in the UK. As someone who escaped the industry, I have been disgusted by it has become – bribes are not uncommon, many consultancies use fresh graduates to do superficial surveys that keep local authorities happy (insect surveys are usually completely ignored), and what the law imposes in terms of mitigation is very limited (bird boxes, a pile of dead wood…).
In addition, the implementation of “mitigation” measures is a total ecological scandal. In this latest piece of research, scientists have found that only 24% of areas are planted as per planning permission; with 53% having wrong plants (not the ones indicated in the planning application), with 12.5% of areas planted smaller than specified at planning stage!
Another fortnight, another Rotten Borough. Keep up the good work!