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A landmark, but for how much longer?

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There is a Wellingtonia that currently stands in the grounds of a public house called The Pinnacles in Shipbourne Road, but probably not for much longer. In December 2011 Wealden Homes put in an application to develop this site and to build twenty residential units. They submitted a tree report from Broadoak Tree Consultants Ltd which included all trees and shrubs of 75mm diameter or more. The investigations comprised of a visual inspection and tapping and probing.

The Wellingtonia was said in the report to be of late 1800's to early 1900's planting and had a Tree Preservation Order (T.P.O.). The report expressed concerns over its health due to "extensive triangular areas of bark loss around the base" which it states "are similar to phytophera infection but this could not be confirmed. Given the past use of the site and tree's location in the beer garden other factors could have caused the bark loss".

This was later mentioned by a resident who commented that the Wellingtonia "is a well known land mark in the area and the supposed bark damage was caused by horses (owned by a relative of the then landlord) being allowed to roam in the pub garden, rubbing against the trunk, thereby damaging the bark." Another neighbour stated that the tree "dominates the landscape for a considerable distance; I understand it was used as a landmark by Battle of Britain fliers returning to West Malling and Biggin Hill. It is not acceptable to simply cut them down in order to increase housing density."

The risk assessment report also stated that all such trees occasionally shed a branch, to which a member of the Tonbridge Civic Society wrote, "that caveat would apply to many valued trees preserved through Tonbridge and the Borough. Its removal for that reason, or because it is inconveniently placed so far as the proposed development is concerned, would set a potentially disastrous planning precedent."

You can read the documents that include all of the comments above on the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council website
On 29th March 2012 the committee voted to fell the trees.

Councillor Vivian Branson spoke at the meeting and voted against the application but sadly did not have sufficent support from others. I have heard of several similar tree losses over the past few years and would like to draw this to the attention of anyone who may have some influence over such future decisions, so that hopefully they may think again about what will be lost.

It is very disheartening that in this current push by developers to build, build, build, and with the imminent relaxing of the planning laws, there will be many more such casualties. It saddens me that a tree which has stood for so long, has a T.P.O. and is very resistant to disease can be so easily dismissed by a suggestion that it may be suffering from something that has not in any way been proven nor further explored, and which is contradicted by the overall condition. I always find it a shame when companies are eager to destroy a tree that took a century or more to grow and provides pleasure to so many people, just to make a few thousand pound more profit.

So there we have it, make of this what you will. The facts are that we have a century (or more) old tree; that this tree is a local landmark; that it has a tree preservation order, and is in all probability loved by a great number of the local residents. We have a council that is employed by the taxpayers of the area to look after their interests, yet they have decided to rescind the T.P.O. and allow a company to boost its profits by cutting down the tree and use the space to build even more houses or flats, which I understand are also not wanted by the very people that employ the council to look after their interests.

Do you think this is right? Do you care? Ok, so for many of you this is perhaps not on your doorstep. Or perhaps you live in the area but have no great interest in this tree. But if companies (and the council) are allowed to trample over the Tree Preservation Order and the wishes of local people in situations such as this, what next? Will it be something that you do care about that is sacrificed next time?

One might argue that we need houses to be built, but the point is that the house could be built somewhere else, and the residents in the neighbourhood could retain their tree. Unlike the location of a new house, a tree of this age and size cannot be moved, and it cannot be replaced - at least not for many generations. So, what is the point of a T.P.O. if, when push comes to shove, a company's desire for profits can over-ride it?

No-one can tell you how you should feel about such a situation, or make you care. Perhaps you may feel that this is a vile and abhorrent destruction of a local amenity for someone else's short-term gain, in which case you should register your feelings with the people that were supposed to be looking after your interests. On the other hand, you may feel this is ok and that there is no reason you should care, then that's fine but you might like to consider that when developers get away with such actions they will push and push, moving the boundaries until one day it is something that you care about that is sacrificed for someone else's gain.

Developers use many excuses to do away with protected trees. They may claim there is a fatal infection (in this case, because bark was lost), or they may claim it is dead, or they may claim it is just old and is in danger of falling, when there may in fact be no such condition. As for this particular type of tree, well Redwoods are highly resistant to infection, and we have heard residents state that horses caused the damage. As for its age - it is actually in its youth; Wellingtonia live for thousands of years. As for its overall condition - take a look and judge for yourself; you will see a tree looking in superb health.

It is easy to blame developers' greed for the abhorrent destruction of the local environment, but perhaps we are wrong to expect a moral and responsible stance from them (since they are answerable only to their shareholders), when in fact it is the very people we pay to protect our interests that should be exhibiting such noble characteristics. The final question must be what "motivated" those in the council who failed to protect the interests of their pay masters (the tax payers)? I leave you to guess the answer to that one.

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