300-year-old oak tree to be felled to create access to new Starcross housing development

  Posted: 13.04.21 at 16:39 by Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporter

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A 300-year-old oak tree is set to be cut down so that a new affordable housing development in Starcross can be built – as a ‘ransom strip’ prohibits any other access to the site.

Teignbridge District Council’s planning committee have approved an application for 20 affordable homes on land off Brickyard Lane.

The plans will also see the existing play park taken down but replaced elsewhere on the site.

Planning officers had recommended that the scheme be given the go-ahead, and councillors agreed, but some were unhappy about the loss of the veteran oak tree.

The meeting heard that other potential ways into the site were unsafe in highways terms, or would render the scheme unviable if the entry point was further up Brickyard Lane.

Access is not possible from off Parkers Road, as it would require use of land that the applicants Teign Housing do not own and have no use of.

The alternative entrance that can't be used because the applicants don't have access rights across the land. Picture: Google Maps

It left the only available route into the site at the junction of Heywood Drive which would require the felling of the tree, but the committee felt its loss would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the very substantial benefits of the scheme’s provision of affordable housing.

Planning officer Kelly Grunnill, in her report to the meeting, said replacement planting of 35 new trees would be carried out which would substantially mitigate the loss of the tree.

The debate over the loss of the oak tree

Cllr Alan Connett, who represents the Kenton-with-Starcross ward, said that he readily acknowledged that residents would be upset at the loss of the oak tree and it would be a sad loss, but that it appeared that protecting the tree and getting the 20 new affordable homes for the village was not possible.

Proposing approval, committee chairman Cllr Mike Haines said that it was a good site for affordable housing and on the planning balance he agreed that approval was the right decision, while Cllr Phil Bullivant added: “While the loss of the oak tree is a sad thing to see, the compensatory planting goers a long way to mitigate the loss and the 20 affordable homes are important for the people in the area.”

But Cllr Janet Bradford felt she needed to ‘speak up for the tree’, saying: “I know affordable housing is needed but the planting of new trees won’t provide the same ecosystem and the benefit of old trees.”

And Cllr Jackie Hook added: “I am torn on this one, as veteran trees have incredible ecological value and if the tree is 300 years old, think of all it has survived and now we are to destroy it, so it is something we should give weight to.”

She questioned why the entrance off Brickyard Lane rather than off Parkers Road which already has an access road that could be extended into the field wasn’t being used, but was told by the planning officer it was because the applicant doesn’t have access over the third party land that would be needed, while other potential entrances were either unsafe or would render the scheme unviable.

In response, Cllr Hook added: “That sounds a lot like a ransom strip, so we can confirm so we know where the blame truly lies. From the reports, those on the ecological side seem to be content, so why would I as an amateur argue with their opinion, but I feel uncomfortable about the loss of the veteran tree as 300 years is a long time and on the basis of someone retaining a bit of land they want a lot of money for to stop a bit of development coming forward.”

Cllr Mary Colclough added: “With my head I am happy to see the housing provided but my heart goes with the tree. It has been there for a long time, so my heart going with the tree is winning, and I cannot believe there isn’t another alternative for access to the land without the destruction of the tree.”

Cllr Haines said that on a balance of planning matters and where to look at, he would go with head rather than his heart as it is a more rational decision, and that he wouldn’t use the words ‘ransom strip’ or ‘blame’ as it is up to the individual as to how they want to use their land.

Councillors voted by ten votes to five in favour of approving the application as per the report, which would see Templer Homes, a subsidiary company of Teign Housing, build 20 new homes, all of which would be affordable and meet the needs of the village.

Access to the site will be from Brickyard Lane from the north eastern corner of the site and through the existing locally equipped play area and public open space which will be replaced as part of this development.

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