Sunday 21 April 2024
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Council votes to chop down trees leaving campaigners ‘devastated’

Campaigners were left devastated after councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of plans to chop down four trees in Newark to make way for a car park.
The fate of the four sycamore trees was decided on Tuesday (October 12), after three years of uncertainty and deliberation, during a Newark and Sherwood District Council meeting.

‘Stop the Chop’ campaigners cheered for some councillors and heckled others who voted in favour of carrying out the scheme by felling the trees to make way for 36 new spaces at the council-run London Road Car Park in Newark.

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Many councillors said they felt there was no alternative – as keeping the trees would have cost the taxpayer over £600,000 because of a complex pre-existing legal agreement signed by the council.

A review into this agreement and the corresponding plan to remove the trees has previously been promised.

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Jenni Harding, of Protect Newark’s Green Spaces, said the decision was “terribly disappointing”.

She said: “All they’ve done is said we’re going through with this and steamrollered over it, they ignored all the stuff about cycling and public transport and the greener future in an effort to keep the developer happy.

“We are absolutely devastated by this. We hope that this dreadful mistake will be reflected in the ballot box for the councillors in Newark.”

Campaigner Molly Chesney said: “I have worked very hard looking at the published paperwork and paperwork produced as a result of FOI requests.

“Surely before we chop down trees based on the basis of a business case which is flawed, we should be reviewing the decision.

“If there are 122,000 people in Newark and Sherwood, the estimated £1m that this decision would’ve cost is £8.19 for every single person over their lifetime.

“Those trees can’t be unfelled. I am mortified and horrified that they were reduced to this decision.”

Deputy leader of the Conservative group Keith Girling (Con) reminded councillors during the meeting that they were tied into an agreement with a developer over the proposals.

The council first proposed the project in November 2018, and in 2019 entered a legally binding agreement with Datch Properties Limited (DPL), which owns the land the extension would be built on.

The agreement commits the council to building the car park and to pay DPL £30,000 per year in rent for 25 years, after an initial two-year, rent-free period.

Mr Girling said: “The council is tied to the current agreement until 2034.

“There is no doubt there have been mistakes made during this application.

“In reality, when we take into account the running costs and maintaining the green space, the loss of revenue over a 30 year period, the real costs to the council taxpayer is more than £1m.”

He added that more trees would be planted on the land and in “suitable nearby space”.
Planning committee chairman Roger Blaney said: “This is our one opportunity to expand and future-proof our best-used town centre car park.

“I understand that to remove mature trees is seen to be incompatible with this council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

“When they die, they release the C02 back into the atmosphere, just as they do if they are felled.

He added: “Let’s get on with it as we should have done a couple of years ago.”

Councillor Paul Peacock, leader of the Labour group, was part of the committee who “waved through” the plans unanimously in 2017.

He said: “At that point in time, I didn’t understand the value of the green space or the trees.

“I hold my hands up – I made a mistake and I apologise for doing so.

“If the council was so sure it was short of car parking spaces, why didn’t we use it as car parking in the first place? Instead, we sold the space. This makes no sense.

“What due diligence was taken when we sold the asset?

“I look forward to these questions being answered in a review we’ve now been promised.”

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