Timber! Brick by Brick’s ecological claims come crashing down

GEOFF JAMES has been analysing the council-owned builders’ planning applications and discovered that many of the borough’s trees are for the chop, in a crass act of environmental vandalism

The trees at Theobald Road are just some of the environmental assets that Brick by Brick wants to destroy

Inside Croydon recently reported that a tree survey commissioned by the council’s own in-house developer Brick by Brick for a site at Theobald Road, close to Wandle Park, was somewhat dubious.

After complaints from a Labour ward councillor and locals, Brick by Brick was required to commission a second tree survey, which duly demonstrated that the trees on the site were of a much higher quality than originally claimed.

When deciding a planning application, the number and quality of trees on a site is an important matter, along with how the development relates to those trees.

The development proposal might require the removal of mature trees, or it might accommodate the trees and ensure that they are not harmed during the building and can thrive when the new occupants arrive.

In every case, the planning authority – in this case, Croydon Council – will need to weigh the harm to the trees against the need for new housing.

Generally, a council will accept the removal of “low-quality” trees. Similarly, they can, and do, require that designs avoid removing or damaging high-quality trees. Sometimes it is decided that there is no choice except to remove high-quality trees and so a complicated tree-valuation methodology will assign a compensation value for the loss of high-quality trees.

The developers can then choose either to provide more young trees and planting within the development or they can simply pay the council a sum towards the cost of tree maintenance and potential new plantings in the area.

It is easy to see how it can be financially beneficial to developers if a tree survey under-grades the trees and generally makes them appear less impacted they really are. This could be very financially rewarding, with some tree consultants perhaps being tempted to “deliver a report that says what the client wants”, as has been the case at Theobald Road.

On other sites, Brick by Brick has commissioned ecological surveys by companies that barely disguise their influential role in the planning process, and of their writing ecological reports to suit the interests of the developers who pay them. “We can help you find a solution to your Ecology issues and help you get your planning approval,” boasts one ecological consultant hired by Brick by Brick.

So, a simple question arises: Are there any other pending Brick by Brick planning applications that include a tree survey that was completed by the company – Mark Welby Arboricultural Consultant – who carried out the original survey for Theobald Road?

A quick check reveals that, of the 13 pending Brick by Brick planning applications, eight have the same tree consultant as Theobald Road:

The list includes a site within Kenley, at Wontford Road, a scheme which I have previously looked at in some detail and consider that it could be Brick by Brick’s worst housing proposal yet.

Kenley residents decided to take a closer look at the tree report which has been submitted to support the claims made for the planned development.

The report is titled “Impact Assessment” and includes claims that:

  • That the site has 40 trees. Of these eight will need to be removed – conveniently, seven of these are deemed to be low-grade, Grade C, with only one rated as Grade A.
  • That works are required to an established row of 12 Maple trees along Roffey Close. These trees are all deemed to be Grade A.

The residents may not be qualified as professional tree consultants, like Mark Welby, but they are qualified to use a tape measure…

In his report on the Wontford Road site, the tree consultant claims to demonstrate “the impact, both direct and indirect, of the proposal” on these trees, though it does this to only a very limited extent. Of the eight trees that Brick by Brick’s expert has marked for removal, there is an arguable case for grading these trees as four As, two Bs and only two Cs.

Wontford Road Green is a site of precious chalk downland, that the council’s building company wants to concrete over

Nine of the high-quality maple trees along Roffey Close require works to make space for scaffolding during the construction works. The work to these trees is described as: “Cut back western crown to give building 2.5m clearance and lift crown to give 3m ground clearance.”

The works recommended might appear reasonable until you start to properly comprehend the impact on the trees. The 2.5-metre clearance is from the front wall of the proposed new buildings. But in his report, the arboricultural consultant offers no indications of how much of the crowns will need to be removed.

There are three trees at the southern end of Roffey Close that are located approximately  2.5 metres from the front wall of the proposed buildings. So a “2.5m clearance” will completely remove one side of the crown from these trees. There are four other trees that are around 3.5 metres from the front wall, so a very large part of their crowns will also be removed if this expert’s recommendations are followed.

The other trees only fare a little better. The trees are going to be left completely unbalanced and in a very poor state.

You do not need to be a tree specialist to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with removing the entire side of a tree.

We can then consider that the roots of maple trees will normally remain within about 50cm of the surface. The proposed buildings have foundations that are to be placed around 2.5 metres from the trees. But the tree consultant simply makes reference to an encroachment on the Root Protection Zone of just 7 per cent, and goes on to say that it is unlikely that such a small impact will result in detriment to the trees.

Brick by Brick’s papers show Wontford Road Green with a question mark where they intend to build. Their scheme will destroy and damage many mature trees

The residents dusted off their school books and selected a tree and did the maths – they believe that for the maple marked in the proposals as “Tree 20”, the foundations will remove approximately 18 per cent of the root protection area. You can decide if this is, as the tree expert claims, a “small impact”, and whether this will be detrimental to the tree.

It appears that the tree consultant has not properly communicated how close the buildings are to the trees and the impact that the building will have on the crowns and roots.

The report underplays or completely ignores the significance of the nine trees on Roffey Close and the deleterious impact that the development will have on them.

The proposal takes a beautiful row of trees that are integral to the pleasant, sylvan feel of Roffey Close and vandalises them. If the council approves the works to the Roffey Close trees then it is nothing less than civic-sponsored vandalism, done in the name of the people of Croydon, and using our money.

The tree report warns that, post-development, any of the new occupiers may feel resentment toward the trees and seek to detrimentally prune them or attempt to have them removed. This is a reasonable assumption as these trees are going to cover their entire front garden, and block daylight to their dining area.

It will be more realistic to assess the Wontford Road application on the basis that the row of maple trees along Roffey Close will be removed or will look very sad. They will certainly no longer appear as a beautiful row of Grade A maple trees.

This analysis highlights major failings in at least two of the Brick by Brick tree reports conducted by the company’s chosen consultant.

Perhaps residents living close to the six other locations in the table should take a similarly close look at the tree reports, as these, too, may include healthy and mature trees marked for the axeman’s chopper, or which might suffer the same cruel fate as the Roffey Close maples which – if these recommendations are approved – will suffer pruning on such a scale that the trees will be doomed to die within a few years.

About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to Timber! Brick by Brick’s ecological claims come crashing down

  1. There are only a small number of thing that should be chopped: Brick x Brick, Newman, and Negrini

    • And don’t forget Paul Scott!! I wonder if the tree consultant concerned went to the same pst-grad business school as the doctor who declared Donald Trump to be one of the fittest men he had ever encountered and also one of the most intelligent and well informed.

  2. sebastian tillinger says:

    We are told BrickxBrick are different to other developers, but clearly not?

    If this Council owned company is unable to beneficially deliver on affordable housing numbers or develop in a way that is responsive to Croydon’s natural environment WHAT exactly is the point of their existence?

    The honest reporting and protection of trees is something for which BrickxBrick should be seen as the purveyors of best practice / the development exemplars. Cleary it is not.

    BrickxBrick’s epitaph: In the end, “thoughts always run the easiest way, like water in old ditches.”

  3. Chris Massey says:

    Geoff, this is an eloquent and lucid article, which again highlights the suspicions we all have. That this entire BxB fiasco is being managed by (putting it politely) inexperienced senior staff with a remarkable lack of curiosity to understand local feelings. Remember the real issues are first the sites selected to build on, secondly the often appalling designs proposed by BxB.

    Much of the problem lies not with BxB but their masters at Croydon Council. Let me explain… We all understand that BxB is effectively just the Croydon Councils lackey. That they have absolutely no control around the selection of sites they are asked to build on. The role of a lacky is to ensure that their master’s hands look clean. This part they are playing exceptionally well! If you notice all the flack is falling on BxB rather than on the real culprits, Croydon Council for their selection and lack of debate on the site. Perhaps someone on the Council is (ahem) “not stupid” and is aware of the role played by the lacky that is BxB.

    The debate around site selection should be with Croydon Council and the local community. Both sides should be actively involved and listened to. Post-debate, with agreements and compromises made on both sides BxB can then get involved with a known agenda to work to. BxB can then do their site surveys, proposals, Architect drawings, or whatever else they do and propose a solution that keeps most parties happy. Yes, there will always be a NIMBY or someone disagreeing about parking or something. These will usually be minor and in the end, the good of the community and the Council will prevail.

    But as we are seeing time after time. Croydon Council is simply not engaging with the residents early enough if at all and are getting their lacky involved too early in the process.

    Croydon Council could save time money and face if they did things properly! But then as I said earlier BxB do appear to be run by the inexperienced, so make for the perfect lacky. It is little wonder they are both losing money.

    • P carvall says:

      Croydon planning are ruining every area. I have e mailed them about trees on a site near me .They sent a reply saying due to Covid it would take sometime to reply. 8 weeks later ?

  4. Colin Cooper says:

    Sorry, but is ANYONE genuinely surprised that this collection of pondscum are all lying through their teeth to achieve whatever their nefarious scheme may be? No, thought not!

  5. Lewis White says:

    Further to Chris Massey’s very well-put points, and very balanced and thoughtful as well, I would agree that we need to have faith in the community to out-weigh the Nimby elememt.
    Most people recognise the need for homes for their children and other people’s children– and the majority, normally will interract with the council if consulted in the right way. That is–with respect, but not failing to share the facts, the needs, the options and the costs of not acting -and the strength to get the real nimbies out-balanced by the sensible majority.
    It is a national problem, getting the balance right.

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