The Ashchurch Residents’ Association (ARA) has been having a great deal of trouble getting a straight answer from the Council to a simple question: what is the status on Tree Protection Orders on 282 Goldhawk Road? Their concern is that those trees not cut down as a result of this development will not themselves be protected from being cut down as well, thus completing the conversion from green space to grey housing block. Here's their story, which they sent to me, of trying to get a 'yes' or 'no' out of H&F Council (motto: putting residents first)
Finally at the end of January, Adam O'Neill, Planning Officer at the Borough’s Urban Design and Conservation Team sent this reply [to ARA]:
“It is anticipated that the Tree Preservation Order would be served prior to the land being sold, since until that point the Council remains in control of any works to trees on the site.”
Later that day, Mr O’Neill recalled his earlier email and sent out a new one with this amendment:
“It is anticipated that the Tree Preservation Order would not (MY UNDERLINING) be served prior to the land being sold, since until that point the Council remains in control of any works to trees on the site.”
So which is it Mr. O’Neill? Will the trees be protected or not?
These trees appear to be causing a lot of confusion at the Town Hall. In a Tree Report carried out in the first half of 2008, the Council’s environment department incorrectly identified two maples as sycamores, a robina as a walnut and an Alaskan cedar as a Monkey Puzzle. More alarmingly, the report suggests several trees are low quality and value and so fit to be felled to make way for the development. A tree expert consulted by ARA said she considered the trees were all healthy and should be retained.
Given the murkiness surrounding the tree issue at 282 Goldhawk Road, the ARA decided to do some more investigation. On the 16th October 2009, under the Freedom of Information Act, a member of the ARA asked the Council to provide documentation referring to the history of Tree Protection Orders on the land. On the 11th November Catherine Smyth, of the borough’s Planning Division replied:
“The Council has considered your request and considers that no obligation arises to disclose the information because of the exemptions within the legislation, including sections 41 (Information provided in confidence) and 43.”
This reply was contested and a review was requested. The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, LBHF, has since written to say that it would be delaying its reply to our complaint and has failed to meet its own extended deadline of the 15th January 2010.
Unhappy with the Council’s lack of transparency, a complaint has now been lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Council have responded saying that they have been given a new deadline of the 26 February by the ICO.
What does the Council have to hide and why the stonewalling on such reasonable requests? If straightforward issues like these are handled in this manner, what hope is there for the Council coming good on their promise of ‘Putting Residents First’. What is the big secret about our trees?