West Hill councillor’s bid to save East Devon trees from ‘unscrupulous’ developers wins backing

East Devon District Council (EDDC)  looks set to take a tougher stand against ‘unscrupulous’ developers cutting down trees before planning applications are submitted.

The authority has asked for an outline report on a new tree strategy to inform discussions an ‘overview’ committee will hold in October, writes Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives.

A motion by West Hill and Aylesbeare representative Councillor Jess Bailey said East Devon’s trees are important for wildlife, capturing carbon, enhancing wellbeing and preventing flooding and erosion.

And a full council meeting on Tuesday, July 27, was broadly in favour of the motion – passed with 38 votes in favour –  but some members had different ideas on how to approach the problem of tree felling.

Cllr Bailey’s motion called for EDDC to recognise the ‘immense contribution’ trees make to the area.

She called for the council to agree a ‘robust’ policy which proactively makes protection orders in a bid to tackle ‘unscrupulous’ developers removing trees ahead of submitting planning applications.

Cllr Bailey also requested a  detailed, district-wide report identifying ways of enhancing and improving the existing treescape be commissioned.

She called on EDDC to implement a community engagement scheme to support town and parish councils in protecting and enhancing trees ‘at the most local level’.

“This council acknowledges that these proposals will increase the workload of the tree officers and additional tree officer capacity will be required in order to give effect to this motion,” added the motion.

“The council will use its general fund balance in the current year and will commit to ongoing costs being met in the 2022/23 budget round.”

Exmouth Brixington ward member Cllr Maddy Chapman argued that EDDC should take a firmer hand in protecting trees – issuing preservation orders in ‘no man’s land’ areas.

She added that, right now, people are cutting down trees ‘and just getting away with it’.

Cllr Fabian King, who represents the Exe Valley and personally looks after trees on his land, agreed with the motion’s sentiment.

But he warned of the dangers of red tape if the same regulations for towns were to be deployed in rural areas where farmers have more work to do with tree husbandry.

Cllr King said: “I understand the fervour that’s going on with those who are bothered about trees being cut down in town.

“Please think about the rural communities and farmers doing their good work as they have to.”

Sidmouth Town representative Cllr Denise Bickley, the authority’s assistant portfolio holder for climate action and emergency response agreed with the motion’s emphasis on a rapid plan.

She said: “This is something that cannot be put off now. It does need to be pulled together very quickly but I would also suggest that we want the best policy possible.”

Cllr Geoff Jung, ward member for Woodbury and Lympstone and portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, added: “We’re going the right direction. It’s not going as fast as a lot of people would like, but it’s a massive issue.”

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