In October 2014, Countryside Properties hacked down part of a hedgerow on a public footpath running beside their Friars Place Takeley site. They had no right to remove these trees, and many residents’ protested to both Countryside Properties and UDC. However, rather than take enforcement action, UDC’s Landscaping Officer ignored public opinion and granted retrospective permission for their removal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this course of action did not deter his friends at Countryside Properties from removing further trees and they returned in February to destroy the remainder of the hedgerow.
Since Countryside Properties began work on the site in early 2014, local residents have repeatedly contacted the UDC planning department to report breaches of various planning constraints: tree removal, dirt and dust levels, failure to use a wheel washer resulting in dangerous amounts of mud on the main road, two storey containers are in place instead of one. UDC has failed to take enforcement action once in all this time. Residents have found officers rude, high handed and ill informed. Every decision has clearly been made in favour of the developers rather than the residents the officers are supposed to be serving, and this was never so obvious as when a planning officer informed a resident that the planning team wouldn’t be doing anything in response to a complaint because they were working very hard to build bridges with Countryside.
In fact, the only time Countryside and UDC have disagreed is over the authorisation of the hedgerow removal in February. Two representatives from Countryside Properties maintain that both UDC officers involved visited site on 31st October 2014 and told them to clear the hedgerow as it was scrubbage. UDC maintain that this is not true. Countryside Properties cannot produce any evidence to support their claim and yet, despite their outrage at Countryside’s finger pointing, UDC chose once again not to take enforcement action about the unlawful removal of the trees. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…
In one of the more bizarre pieces of correspondence I received from UDC, I was informed by a senior figure that the trees had not been cut down in February, rather they had been ‘coppiced’ and that this was ‘A Good Thing’. Unfortunately, Countryside Properties had already ground out the ‘coppiced’ tree stumps by this point making regrowth a somewhat tricky proposition.
UDC planning officers are either ill informed or they are deliberately misleading local people. Given that they fail to adequately police developers, they should at least endeavour to protect local residents by insisting on membership of an organisation that will, such as the Considerate Constructor Scheme. This is an organisation that gives local people somewhere to turn if they have concerns about site work in their local area. It is a simple process for developers to register a site and provides guidelines for conduct on site which reputable construction companies are happy to comply with.
Countryside Properties provided UDC with a method statement in 2013 for working on the Friars Place site, which stated that they were applying to join the Considerate Constructor Scheme. An identical one was also submitted a year later. Yet in October 2015 local residents established within ten minutes that Countryside Properties have never registered the site with the scheme. Had UDC’s planning department done their job properly this would have been identified and dealt with prior to work commencing on site – or certainly very swiftly afterwards – since a prerequisite of being a member of the Considerate Constructor scheme is to display a banner stating membership of the organisation for members of the public (and visiting council officers) to see.
Because I have dared to challenge the ineptitude of the planning department I have been branded ‘scurrilous’ and UDC officers are no longer responding to my emails. I am a resident of Uttlesford so surely I have a right to ask questions about issues that directly impact on my family and my neighbours without the threat of UDC’s solictors? I’ve now requested that the Local Government Ombudsman investigates UDC’s maladministration of the development.
Now to celebrate the successes of Takeley residents in the face of adversity… We have spent a year working to protect our local environment, campaigning for the replanting of trees and ensuring that Countryside’s perimeter fence is in the right location… and we have achieved it! We insisted that the fence was moved twice, gaining an extra few feet in footpath width – a small amount of space to be fighting for, but one which makes a big difference when you’re pushing a buggy or walking a dog. As of yesterday, we also have trees! Admittedly they are leafless metre tall whips where we once had mature and leafy hedgerow, but we have trees! We have also made friends as we have worked together in the pursuit of our common goal.
I truly do not believe that UDC or Countryside would have done the right thing without our persistence so I am extremely proud of what we’ve achieved. After all, as Dr Seuss’ famous tree defender, The Lorax, said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”