The motion was:
“This Council recognises the great value of trees to the East Devon landscape, particularly ancient woodland, and also the importance of trees to wildlife. This council is concerned at the loss of trees as a result of development proposals, and is particularly concerned at the removal of trees by developers ahead of receiving planning approval.
1. calls on the Government to provide greater protection for trees and ancient woodland
2. calls on the government to allow greater penalties for developers who remove trees without permission
3. asks the Portfolio Holder for Environment to pursue options for woodland creation and tree planting in East Devon.”
Tree expert, Diana East, spoke in support of the motion during the public session and emphasised the importance of planting new trees, the impact of trees on our health and the value to nature of veteran trees.
She said: “If you cut down a champion tree – its replacement takes at least 200 years to become the same size. And all the wildlife – the protected bats, lichens, and invertebrates that used such a tree for their food and shelter – what will they do in the intervening years?”
Mrs East added: “Where trees are taken out for development, then replacing one mature tree with one young tree is not sufficient. The aim should be to provide the same canopy spread but with dozens of young trees. That should be a bit of a deterrent!”
In my speech, as proposer I made references to the recent shameful events in West Hill – of killing veteran native trees that are in the way of a developer’s desire to maximise his profits – https://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/west_hill_killed_oaks_would_have_lived_for_another_100_years/
I also spoke about the state of nature report, published earlier this year, with its alarming findings on the collapse of many of our wildlife species. And the new and worrying susceptibility of trees to disease.
I told the meeting that EDDC’s tree officers had confirmed that up to 300 important native species, protected or unprotected, may have been felled in East Devon for development reasons, over the past five years.
EDDC had not prosecuted anyone for illegal tree activity, I confirmed.
Cllr Roger Giles, who seconded the motion, said trees were a defining feature in East Devon and they were “under threat from unscrupulous developers.”
EDDC tree officers were doing their best he said, but their hands were tied.
Cllr Giles added that people in Ottery had been really angry recently when trees were felled by developers. EDDC needed to help its tree officers to do their job in the way that they would wish.
Environment portfolio holder, Cllr Iain Chubb, said that part of the problem was land values that meant that there was an obvious economic choice. He explained about the hedgerow regulations act 1997 meaning that six weeks notice had to be given to the district council on works to remove any hedgerow.
Unfortunately, he said, the tree preservation order system meant that the reverse was the case, which meant significant human resource had to be employed to apply any new protection for a tree.
Adding: “We all love trees – you are not a man until you have planted a tree.”
Cllr Chubb said that he had planted quite a few trees himself but there were limited resources to plant trees, both locally and nationally, adding that there was a proven link between a lack of trees and economic deprivation.
Cllr Tony Howard said that he was sure that everyone shared the aim to protect trees but he was not convinced that the motion would achieve that aim. He said he wanted to review “development management procedures.”
Adding: “We should tackle our own issues and not waste valuable government time.”
He went on to say that the cases of ringbarking I had described were issues for West Hill.
“We shouldn’t overreact and label developers as rogues – these are isolated instances,” he said.
Cllr Howard wanted to “retain perspective” and said that he was neutral about the motion which he thought had “inherent weaknesses.”
He suggested removing the word “developers.” and repeated that there should be no government involvement at this stage.
Cllr Trevor Cope replied that to suggest it was a West Hill problem was not right, it is Brixington and across all of East Devon, he emphasised.
He said it made him angry when developers had driven vehicles into valuable trees in Exmouth, apparently accidentally, and irreversibly damaged them.
He said trees are “our silver” and removing them in the name of profit was “industrial vandalism,” purely for the developer to make more money.
Cllr Ben Ingham asked how anyone could possibly argue against my motion and gave similar examples of unscrupulous tree felling in his ward of Lympstone.
Think about your grandchildren, what are we leaving them, he asked?
Cllr Helen Parr said that councillors had to be realistic and not all trees were protected. She said landowners had every right to remove trees for their own reasons. She added that anyone who wanted to protect a tree should simply apply for a tree preservation order (TPO) and that a tree did not have to be at risk for one to be applied.
Cllr Philip Skinner described himself as a “country boy” and said he sat next to trees and also by fires with burning logs in them.
I summed up by saying that I fully supported a task and finish forum but I put the record straight on TPOs. It was actually very difficult to get a TPO applied, I said. And it most certainly had to be at risk beforehand.
The chairman introduced a vote suggesting that the motion should be deferred until a TAFF had done its work. I immediately stuck up my hand to argue with this as I didn’t agree that the motion should be deferred, and I thought it was entirely unnecessary.
Cllr Skinner confirmed that he agreed with Cllr Howard that the motion should be delayed until there was “evidence.”
A vote was taken and deferral of the motion was agreed to allow a task and finish forum to be set up was agreed.
The voting went along the lines of the conservatives virtually all in favour of a delay, with the libdems and independents mostly voting against a delay.