Plans for new homes on former school site rejected over tree concerns

Plans to build new homes on a former school site have been knocked back over concerns more than 20 trees could be destroyed.

On Monday (May 20) South Tyneside Council’s Planning Committee discussed proposals for 16 rent-to-buy homes on the former Boldon C of E Primary School site.

Plans included removing a large number of trees on the site – including 13 listed under a council ‘Tree Preservation Order” (TPO).

This order was lodged to protect the trees while planning discussions took place with applicant Karbon Homes,

While replacement trees are set to be planted on a nearby site, known locally as ‘The Leap’, councillors were told 22 trees would be lost from the school site.

Since being submitted, the plans have been criticised by campaigners from the South Tyneside Green Party, South Tyneside Tree Action Group and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Other objectors included West Boldon Residents Association, the council’s own tree team and senior landscape architect and a raft of letters and emails from residents.

One objector’s statement, read to councillors at South Shields Town Hall, described the plans as “nothing short of official vandalism.”

Planning officers had recommended the plans for approval stating the demand for affordable homes outweighed the loss of trees.

But after detailed discussions, councillors voted for the plans to be rejected.

The undersubscribed school off Rectory Bank closed in 2009 – despite a 4,100-name parent protest petition – and was demolished last year.

New plans included 10 three-bed and six four-bed homes on the site of the school building and playground area – not its playing fields.

At the meeting, letters were read out from Boldon Colliery councillors, including Coun Joanne Bell who said she had “grave concerns”.

These included the height of some of the homes, the impact on the West Boldon Conservation Area and the suitability of the site sidelined for replacement trees.

Ward councillor, Sandra Duncan, speaking at the meeting, added she “opposed the plans from the outset” and described the trees as a “fundamental part of the West Boldon Conservation Area.”

Other issues, she added, included parking and potential disruption during construction, with the “wider Boldon community up in arms” over the plans.

A representative for Karbon Homes said the developer had worked with the council to mitigate the loss of trees and aimed to provide 100% affordable housing on the site.

And Coun Wilf Flynn said the committee faced a “dilemma” over the decision between affordable homes and saving trees.

“If we’re not going to allow housing because of trees, we’re going to run short of places in the borough to build houses,” he said.

But the majority of councillors on the Planning Committee were not convinced, with Coun Geraldine Kilgour describing the replacement tree planting as “simply not acceptable.”

Citing information in planning documents, she said that three-bedroom homes were also in “oversupply” in the area.

Coun Anne Hetherington raised concerns about the impact on biodiversity and the loss of ‘Class A’ trees.

While Coun Gladys Hobson questioned why a housing estate was being built next to a football pitch alongside issues around traffic access, visitor parking spaces and pressure on school places.

Coun Jeff Milburn added: “I think with these trees, they must be, I guess, in excess of 100-150 years old.

“Once they’re gone, they’re gone and I think we would just ruin the area and I could not support this.”

Following discussion, the committee agreed to reject the housing plans over the loss of trees and impact on the West Boldon Conservation Area.

This was carried with eight votes to refuse and six in favour.

The decision has since been welcomed by several objectors, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Vice chair of the countryside charity’s North East branch, Gillan Gibson, said: “This is great news for those who want to preserve the green capital of South Tyneside and it’s wonderful that these beautiful, mature trees have been saved from destruction for our generation and future generations to enjoy.

“We have some sympathy for the applicant because of their desire to build new, affordable homes, which is something the Campaign to Protect Rural England supports – rather than yet another ‘executive housing on Green Belt land’ application.”

She added: “The loss of trees in South Tyneside is a matter of great local concern and to lose so many trees in such a prominent position – as the site is virtually on the crest of the hill and visible for many miles – would have been a negative development for the borough.

“We’re delighted at the decision reached because so many green spaces are under threat across the region and once they’re gone, they’re effectively gone for good.

“Well done to all those groups and individuals who wrote in objecting to the plans and also to the councillors who voted against a move which would have seen a lovely green space in West Boldon vanish forever.”

Newly-elected Green Party councillor for Beacon and Bents, David Francis, said he was “delighted” with the decision.

He said: “Sites for developments like this need to be chosen carefully, and with a little creative planning it should be possible to develop housing

without resorting to the felling of so many healthy, mature trees.

“In the last week or so, we’ve seen an excellent example of people power, and effective local democracy – people making their voices heard, and the Planning Committee listening to these concerns and making a decision accordingly

“I’d like to extend my thanks to Rachael Milne of South Tyneside Tree Action Group, who has worked hard to make local people aware of this issue, to all of the people who emailed and wrote in with their objections and to the members of the Planning Committee who I believe made the right decision today, for local people, and for our local environment.”

Rachael Milne, of the South Tyneside Tree Action Group, added: “The group undertook a social media campaign over the weekend to draw attention to the loss of trees and habitat which led to the council being inundated with objections.

“We would like to thank the public for their involvement and continued support. Their emails saved these trees.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service