On 16th August the Helensburgh Advertiser carried an article headed ‘Row over new houses’ with a strapline ‘But developers will re-plant lost woodland’.
This relates to the situation we reported on recently ( Helensburgh development sees council planners go for open source decision taking ).
The site under dispute is Castle Woods which is an Open Space Protected Area (OSPA) with a Tree Protection Order (TPO). Nevertheless, the developers persist in applying to build on it, first aiming for 72 houses; now, with the current variation of their planning application, looking to build 12 ‘mainstream’ and 36 affordable homes on the site.
The developers in question – Osborne Interiors – have, as we reported in the article linked above, already been told, in a letter from planning officer, Howard Young, placed in the public domain by Argyll and Bute Council’s planning department:
- that they should withdraw their current application for the development at issue, in Castle Woods in Helensburgh, because the extent to which it has been varied from the original makes this a new application – which should then be submitted to the full public consultation regime;
- and that the council is unlikely to regard the application favourably for given reasons.
The article notes that Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG) – also featured in our recent article linked above – is campaigning for necessary objections to be lodged to the Osborne application. The Group’s Chair, David Adams, is quoted as saying: ‘The immediate purpose of the campaign is to defeat this planing application which would all but destroy Castle Woods.
‘Its longer term aim is to bring Castle Woods into community ownership and ensure it is properly managed for the benefit of the people of Helensburgh.’
An unidentified ‘spokesman’ for Osborne Interiors – but with a recognisably combative and linguistic style – is quoted as saying: ‘As a passing comment on HCWG, it would not be unreasonable to point out that this group since its formation has not planted a single tree for the benefit of the community where the developer has planted in excess of 250 during the last 5 years.’
The Helensburgh Advertiser article points out that the developers have offered ‘… to create a replacement community woodland in two acres of ground at Cumberland Avenue in Helensburgh’.
What the Helensburgh Advertiser does not say is that the Cumberland Avenue site was a protected woodland and was felled by Osbornes, in an action that was partly permitted – but only after the work had begun – and partly specifically forbidden. The latter is under investigation by the council as having been unlawful and therefore liable to prosecution and/or enforcement.
The photograph above shows how that devastated site has been left by Osbornes.
The local press article did not note that the offer to ‘create a community woodland’ at Cumberland Avenue was nothing more than a gesture towards replanting a site Osbornes had themselves devastated and are quite likely to be required by the council to replant anyway.
It is disappointing that the paper let Osbornes’ spokesman get away trying to discredit a Community Woodland Group on the grounds of not having planted any trees – when their correct primary purpose is first to protect the community assets of existing trees and woodland. It is also fair to say that Osborne’s activities on sites with Tree Preservation Orders and with this Open Space Protected Area – a status upheld by a Government Reporter – at Castle Woods, have kept the group fully occupied on the preservation front.
It is equally disappointing that Osbornes’ spokesman was allowed to cite the number of trees the developer had planted over five years without being asked how many they had felled in the same period.
Helensburgh Community Woodland Group’s response
The group issued a press statement yesterday, refuting what it described as disingenuous statements made by Osborne Interiors’.
‘In this week’s Helensburgh Advertiser (16 August 2012, page 11), Osborne Interiors have reacted to the widespread public concern about their plans to destroy the historic Castle Woods and turn it into large housing estate.
Helensburgh Community Woodlands Group (HCWG) which is leading the widely-supported public campaign against the development has now hit back against what it considers Osborne Interiors’ disingenuous statements in the Advertiser.
‘Osborne Interiors make the claim that building houses in Castle Woods will lead to the “significant regeneration” of the woodland. HCWG consider that this simply beggars belief. Castle Woods has been officially recognised as one of Helensburgh’s ‘Key Environment Features’. Ecologically, it is a natural extension of Duchess Woods and indeed the northern half of Castle Woods is a designated Local Nature Conservation Site. In HCWG’s view, housing development will ruin the woodland, not regenerate it.
‘Contrary to the position taken by Osborne Interiors, an independent forestry expert (Donald McPhillemy B.Ecol. Sci (Hons Forestry) M.I.C.For), commissioned by Argyll and Bute Council to report on Castle Woods concluded that “The proposed housing development is incompatible with the woodland continuing as an intact woodland ecosystem.”
‘According to the McPhillemy report, housing development within Castle Woods will cause fundamental damage to its integrity, appearance or prized features, which include:
- the remaining part of an ancient or semi-natural woodland;
- recreational value to local people;
- amenity value;
- the woodland setting;
- the habitat value;
- highly valued tree specimens;
- windbreak characteristics;
- the configuration of open space, glades, canopy and under-storey components within the woodland area’
- the important contribution of the woodland, as a key landscape feature, to local and regional landscape character and distinctiveness.
‘HCWG believes it is thus entirely false for Osborne Interiors to claim, as they do in the Helensburgh Advertiser, that building in the Castle Woods will “result in more viable and sustainable trees after the development than currently is the case.”
‘Can Osbornes point to any historic woodland elsewhere in Scotland, or indeed in the wider UK, where the ecosystem has been enhanced by turning it into a housing estate? Unless they can, any reasonable person would have to conclude that their proposal to build up to 72 houses at Castle Woods would inevitably destroy a sensitive and much valued local environment.
‘Osborne Interiors further argue that development at Castle Woods would solve flooding problems there and in the adjacent Ardencaple Quadrant. Longstanding local residents, who have told HCWG that no flooding problems were experienced before Osbornes acquired Castle Woods, believe the problems are associated with ditches that have subsequently been cut in the woodland. Whatever the cause of this flooding, it does not need housing development to solve it. A better solution according to the McPhillemy Report would simply be to pipe water out of a waterlogged sink area within the wood and direct it into a storm drain.
‘As the Helensburgh Advertiser reveals, Osborne Interiors have just bought the derelict block of flats adjacent to Castle Woods, known as Jutland Court. The Advertiser article mischievously suggests that HCWG opposes the redevelopment or refurbishment of Jutland Court.
‘Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed,
‘in April 2012, HCWG drew the attention of Osborne Interiors to the sale particulars for Jutland Court and suggested that the company should build there, instead of destroying Castle Woods. Now that Osbornes own Jutland Court, they should concentrate on that project and lift the threat to Castle Woods. (Ed: For Argyll can testify to and prove the truth of HCWG’s position here. We published much earlier on its suggestion that Osborne’s buy and develop the eyesore that is Jutland Court, rather than destroy protected trees and woodland areas.)
‘Osborne Interiors have offered to replant part of the woodland they destroyed last year at nearby Cumberland Avenue, but only if they can get permission at Castle Woods. HCWG believe this woodland should be replanted anyway, since it was covered by a Tree Preservation Order. Despite promises given last year, the Cumberland Avenue site remains an eyesore and a danger to local children.
‘Significantly, Osborne Interiors have failed to respond to two invitations from HCWG to discuss the future of the Cumberland Avenue site, which were sent to Mrs Osborne on 6 and 23 June. The company has since intimated through third parties that it is not prepared to hold such a meeting. It is hard to believe that the company is interested in creating a genuine community woodland at Cumberland Avenue when it is unwilling to engage with the local community. Nevertheless, if Osborne Interiors ever decide to engage in genuine local dialogue, HCWG is prepared to meet the company without any pre-conditions.
‘In the meantime, HCWG’s public campaign against the plans to destroy Castle Woods is gaining extensive support in the area, with around 100 letters of objection on their way to the Council. The campaign has received almost unanimous backing from local people on the doorstep, with many residents extremely concerned (and some, very angry) at the potential loss of such a valued area of woodland.
‘Anyone who supports the campaign to save Castle Woods can obtain a free poster and car sticker simply by emailing: email@example.com ‘
Note: The McPhillemy Report is available at the Castle Woods planning application website. Click on ‘Documents’, then ‘Associated Documents’, then download Document 20635117