The world is fast waking up to the urgent need to protect nature and the preservation of mature trees often engenders particularly strong feelings. That was certainly so in a Court of Appeal case concerning the proposed construction of a holiday village.
Contrary to the advice of one of its own planning officers, a local authority granted planning permission for the development. The officer had pinpointed potential harm to very significant trees and described the proposal as a significant encroachment into the countryside that would be inappropriate in the Green Belt.
Local councillors, however, gave substantial weight to the economic benefits of the proposal and found that there were very special circumstances that justified the development. Planning permission was granted subject to 30 conditions and the developer entered into a binding agreement that required it to prepare detailed plans, which had to be approved by the council before works could start on site.
A campaigner’s judicial review challenge to the permission was rejected by a judge. In dismissing his appeal against that outcome, the Court rejected claims that the council gave inadequate consideration to the protection of veteran trees on the development site and in neighbouring wooded areas which were classified as sites of special scientific interest or special areas of conservation.
The council conceded that it had failed to carry out an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Directive and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, but the Court agreed with the judge that it was very likely that, even had that step been taken, planning consent would still have been granted.
The minutes of the council meeting, when read together with the conditions and the agreement with the developer, contained all that an informed member of the public needed to know about why the council had concluded that, if required mitigation measures were complied with, there would be no harm to veteran trees.
Subject to such mitigation measures being secured, Natural England had withdrawn its objection to the proposal. There had also been numerous exchanges between the council and the developer concerning, amongst other things, the proper classification of various trees and the impact of the project on particular specimens.
The Court was satisfied that, during both the construction and operational phases of the project, there would be a 20-metre buffer zone between the development and protected adjoining woodland. Plans of the development seemed to show a pond encroaching somewhat into the buffer zone, but that and other issues could be sorted out sensibly on site before works commenced.