A proposal to fell several prominent mature trees on Penarth Head – all of which have Tree Preservation Orders on them – is being opposed by Penarth Town Council’s planning committee.
Councillors voted to recommend rejection of a planning application by Headlands School to fell the trees and pollard others – all of which stand in the school grounds. Trees due for the chop include a Horse-chestnut, five Sycamore trees, a Holm Oak and two Cherry trees.
The trees in the grounds of Headlands are some of the largest in Penarth and form a major part of the Headland scenery – the “Pen yr Arth” – and contribute much of the cliff’s distinctive green and leafy look when viewed from across the Bay .
When the planning application came before Penarth Town Council’s planning committee last night, the committee chairman – Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) – declared an interest as a governor of Headlands, left the meeting and relinquished the chair to Cllr Rhiannon Birch (Labour Cornerswell).
The Town Clerk, Emma Smith, said the planning application from Headlands was not one which the Vale of Glamorgan Council had sent to Penarth Town Council for consultation. The matter had been raised directly by a member of the public and it was “very clear” that the planning committee should consider the application.
In a written submission the unnamed member of the public had asserted that 19 trees would be felled – with many more to be “severely pollarded” – an operation which would “radically change the Penarth landscape and the Conservation Area in the grounds of a Grade II Listed building [Headlands School – formerly the Penarth Hotel] . It was claimed that the project would “damage the biodiversity and the habitat” of the area .
Attending the planning committee meeting were well-known local environmental campaigners Anne Greagsby and Dr Max Wallis who were given permission to address the committee.
Ms Greagsby said she had a copy of the original Tree Preservation Order [TPO] and noted that documentation dating back to 1900 had designated the area as “ancient woodland” . The original TPO – she said – had referred to “groups of trees” and there were likely to be other trees in the groups which were likely to be felled because it covered 45 trees in all – 19 of which it was proposed to fell .
Ms Greagsby said there was insufficient information provided. There was no document on the Vale Council’s website. The responsible officer had been on holiday .
She said “It’s not very easy to tell whether a tree is dead or dying”. The report [from Headlands School] was totally inadequate . It spoke of “urgent remedial work” but didn’t say if any tree was dangerous. Indeed the report did not indicate any knowledge of the Tree Preservation Orders ; the report said it was not known “whether the trees had TPOs on them or not ” . Only when the report was passed to the Vale Council was it pointed out that some of the trees did have TPOs on them.
Ms Greagsby pointed out that no TPO map had been provided indicating which trees were the subject of TPOs . There was “ambiguity” about which trees were covered. There was also no ecology report – (only yesterday had the Vale Council officer decided to ask the Vale ecologist to provide such a report). And, she said, there was no landscape report detailing the what would be the “effect of chopping all these trees down on what we see in Penarth”. The whole view of Penarth would be completely changed.
Ms Greagby also pointed out that there had been no public notices displayed, no report made by a council specialist and there was “no report which says these trees are dangerous” . The Welsh Government said “ancient woodlands should be protected ” . The [Headlands] report said of the 45 trees that “a few of them could be replaced – but not all of them “ . She said it was imperative that all felled trees be replaced.
She and Dr Wallis suggested that Penarth Council should for ask for a detailed report and “sufficient information as required by TPO legislation” and that the application should be referred until that information is received. There should then be a full consultation and a reports provided on the impact on the landscape – and on the effects on local wildlife.
Cllr Rhiannon Birch ( in the chair) said there had also been a letter from the Penarth Society setting out its concerns about the proposed felling of mature trees at Headlands. The society called for the matter to be determined by the full Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee – rather being dealt with on a “delegated” basis by a council planning officer.
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) said Ms Greagsby had a “huge emotional attachment to trees” and clearly felt very strongly about it – “as everybody does”. However, Cllr Roberts said, “trees are living organisms . They have a life cycle.” He reminded councillors that, notwithstanding Penarth Council’s tree management programme, a tree had fallen down in the Kymin – luckily not demolishing the building – and a tree had “fallen down literally within a few feet of these across the road”. He said “trees that decay and die – and all trees do – actually kill people . They can kill children”
Cllr Roberts alleged that Headlands School had “failed to have a tree management programme for many years and then panicked and got an arborculturalist in to look at them “. The resultant report he said “is drastic – there is no doubt about it …a large number of the trees need to come down” .
Cllr Roberts said “I am really concerned. This is Headlands School. There are children in that school – children around those trees. It is an exposed site. It’s on the Headland. It does get very intense winds”. He said he would never forgive himself if a tree came down and actually killed a child and that was what the council needed to worry about.
Cllr Roberts said the Vale planning officer was insisting that trees removed would be replaced – and “if they were not replaced this autumn then she will carry out enforcement action to replace the trees”. He said the felling and pollarding proposed in the report should go ahead.
Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward) noted Cllr Roberts’s comments but went on to say that local residents had not been given a reason why the trees should be cut down. Tree roots, he said, added to “stabililty in the ground – and when you cut those, and the roots die, quite often the stabililty goes”
Cllr Roberts conceded that [property] developers would put “negative spin” on matters where they wanted carry out development. He said the Headlands site was identified in the Vale Council’s Local Development Plan as a potential site for the building of 59 houses. Cllr Roberts said ” That does not mean any development is planned in there. Headlands School intends staying there for an indefinite period”. He said “I do not believe this is a cynical ploy to clear the area for development. “.
Cllr Anthony Ernest said “I am not entirely heartened by the ward-member [Cllr Roberts]’s support for felling trees in his ward. It’s not something I would go on record as supporting” . Cllr Ernest said he was very concerned about the biodiversity of the site. There was a duty on every officer of the [Vale] council to take into account biodiversity. He agreed with Ms Greagsby’s point about the lack of information on the proposals. There was talk of replacing the trees but it would take 20-25 years for replacement specimens to grow to the same height – so the actual tree-cover on the site would “diminish overnight“. The site was on high ground – very visible from the sea and from the surroundings.
Cllr Ernest said he recognised the arguments about potential danger to children. If those points could be justified it would “come forward in the decision” but overall he was not entirely satisfied with the application and wanted further information on it .
Cllr Tracey Alexander ( Labour Cornerswell) also highlighted the lack of information on the application. She said “as far as my conscience is concerned, when that tree goes – it goes” . She would want evidence that soil testing had been carried out which showed the tree to be diseased [before sanctioning its felling]. She had seen large oak trees “contained and made safe” . She would need to be sure everything possible had been done before making a decision to fell a tree and asked that the Vale defer a decision.
Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) said “the undercurrent here is that this could be the thin end of the wedge” . If proper procedure was not followed he could envisage the Ombudsman knocking on the door of the Vale Council to look at “every single piece of paper” .
In a possible veiled reference to Cllr Roberts’s claim that children could be killed by falling trees at Headlands, Cllr Rapier said “Emotional capital is at work here”. He noted that the site was “formerly the Penarth Hotel , possibly the temporary home of Marconi and Sisley” . It had been given by the Gibbs family to establish the National Children’s Home. The term “ancient woodlands” threw up “warning signals” . “Better than best advice” was called for. The report should have given more detail about the state of the trees said to be diseased.
Cllr Rapier said ” The people of Penarth and of the St Augustines Ward – whom it’s my privilege to represent – are entitled to some respect in the matter and be told in detail exactly why ancient woodland is likely to disappear.” .
Cllr Williams said many trees had been lost in Penarth. He proposed the council take a second opinion and said he had no clear indication why it was proposed to fell the trees. “The offer to replace them is not good enough for me” – he said and moved to refuse the application. The motion was seconded by Cllr Ernest
Cllr Roberts – who is also a member of the Vale of Glamorgan Council – said there had been a lot of “misinformation” in the discussion . The trees proposed for felling were identified as being “past repair” . He criticised Cllr Alexander for – as he claimed- not having read the full report on the council’s website. He told her “Because you haven’t read the report, it doesn’t mean the information isn’t in the report”
Cllr Roberts then rebutted Cllr Phillip Rapier’s comments about the possibility of the Ombudsman being involved. He said ” I became involved in a quite large reduction of trees on the embankment in the Marina – and it was reported to the Ombudsman”.He said the Ombudsman had investigated and had subsequently endorsed everything that the Vale Council had done.
At Headlands he said a Vale Tree Preservation Officer had examined every tree. An “ancient woodland ” did not mean “preserving every tree forever” . “We have to have hard-headed look at these things and allow the whole site to continue to evolve naturally”
Stung by Cllr Roberts’s criticism, Cllr Alexander said she was not “a fluffy bunny” as Cllr Birch, in the chair, hustled the meeting to a vote on Cllr Williams’s motion to refuse the application.
The motion to refuse the application was carried – with Cllr Roberts being the only member to vote in favour of felling. The matter now lies with the Vale of Glamorgan Council.