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Letter: How Could This Basic Mistake Have Been Made?

Published on: 23 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 24 Jun, 2021

The Old Oak in Ash Green

From: Sue Wyeth-Price

Member of Ash Green Residents Association (AGRA)

In response to: Revised Interpretation of ‘Veteran’ Oak Tree Status Throws Ash Green Housing Scheme Into Confusion

Some things just don’t seem to change.

GBC “strongly contests” my point of view claiming the original officer decision was based “on information available at that time”.

This time we have yet another councillor leaping to the defence of an officer who has clearly not had a grasp on the facts to the same level that the residents, or GBC’s paid advisors, Surrey Wildlife Trust, have had, for a period of two and a half years.

Cllr Tom Hunt [Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas] needs to understand the difference between “documents”, which may or may not have been available, and “information” which most definitely was available because we provided it.

Two weeks ago, the officer identified two documents which he claims are the basis for his change of mind. It is true that one of them was dated June 2020 (a year ago), but the other was published before the application was even submitted.

There is no new information in either document which was not previously included in the seven objections from AGRA or the five consultation responses from Surrey Wildlife Trust (and that doesn’t include the responses to the duplicate application going to appeal in September).

We always suspect that consultation/ objection is just a paper exercise, and this shows it for what it is. But worse, what is the point of GBC paying Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) to cover the lack of an in-house ecological service if they then ignore their data and sound advice?

The tree officer raises six points in his change of heart e-mail. The first five of these are the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], the girth of the tree, the inclusion of the tree on Ordnance Survey maps from 1871, other veteran tree characteristics, and the reliance on girth alone in assessing the age of the tree.

Both AGRA and SWT raised every single one of these points, some of them going back to February 2019 and all of them by November 2019. We even provided a web link to the map.

All of this was available before the December 2019 decision which we had to take to a judicial review. At this point, the officer was describing the tree as: “This is the dead Oak tree…”.

The information was certainly available when the June 2021 officer report was released in which he is quoted: “For the avoidance of doubt, this conclusion is reached having reviewed the information available…”

His final point is that he misinterpreted the “Chart of girth in relation to age and developmental classification of trees”.

It seems inexplicable to me for a tree officer to be unable to correctly interpret a size chart on tree girth, which has been around since 2013 and included in the application documents since 2018. One of the documents, which he now says, showed him the error of his ways, two weeks ago, has been available since November 2018, before the application was even submitted.

This application has been through two planning committees, decided, quashed at JR, subject to two site visits, been pulled from the agenda at the last minute from both the May and June meetings, and we still do not have a published decision.

I’m told we should be pleased that the council has admitted a mistake, but it’s taken two years, uncountable hours of work, a judicial review and money we don’t have just to get this far.

How much more do we have to do?

Cllr Tom Hunt declined the opportunity to respond.

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test 2 Responses to Letter: How Could This Basic Mistake Have Been Made?

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    June 23, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    This is absolutely ridiculous. Not only are we seeing educated, responsible members of the public being pushed aside or ignored, we are also witnessing our council ignore the advice from their advisory bodies.

    So, is our council pushing housing at all costs or just plain incapable?

    Either way, who’s responsible and what is the plan to resolve the mistakes made in Ash. Let’s dig out the minutes of the meetings between GBC and Bewley homes pre 2019, see who was attending and what was agreed.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      June 24, 2021 at 6:58 pm

      Evidently, GBC still does not get the meaning of openness and transparency.

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