Every day when I go to work, at the Open Spaces Society office in Henley, I park my car at the back of the town and walk through the residential area to Bell Street in the centre. My walk is much enhanced by the trees along the way. I have often stopped on the corner of Kings Road and Mount View to watch the birds in a pair of large sycamores which hosted a couple of rooks’ nests.
No more. Last week I walked down Mount View to see a man hanging off the branches in the process of felling the trees. The first went on 29 April, the second on 30 April.
And this was done during the breeding season. Most of us take care not to disturb wildlife at this sensitive time of year. I dread to think what creatures have succumbed with the trees.
Now there is a gaping hole, which is not filled by the remaining, lone yew tree.
This disaster caused me to check out what permissions had been granted for the site—53-55 King’s Road. Keith Pearce of Cromwell Lodge, Stonor, submitted a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) for a three-bedroom house in 2013. This attracted many objections, from Henley Town Council and the Henley Society among others. The application has not yet been determined.
The Henley Society noted that: ‘When the neighbouring estate of town houses was built, the area proposed for this property was retained as public amenity land. We understand that its allocation as open space was confirmed as a condition of planning permission. It should remain so. The area contains three mature trees protected by TPO 97/30.’
The Forestry Officer for SODC, Matt Gulliford, objected because the trees were protected by a tree preservation order. ‘Collectively all three trees [the two sycamores and the yew] have significant landscape amenity value and contribute to the adjacent conservation area. They are the only mature trees visible in this section of street scene.’ He feared that the effect of the development would lead to pressure to have the trees severely pruned or removed.
The applicant then obtained a further tree survey by former SODC forestry officer Martin Gammie. He said that there were defects in the sycamores. Matt Gulliford then agreed that the trees should be removed, but because this ‘will have a significant negative impact on the street scene’ it was essential that there was replacement tree-planting. The applicant got permission for the tree works.
Unfortunately, the replacements are to be ornamental species rather than native and will not have the grace, elegance and presence of the sycamores.
With the trees gone, there is a grave risk that the site will be developed, although of course it should be held for the public as originally intended. I hadn’t thought that this was a case in which the Open Spaces Society should get involved, but it may prove to be so.