In the interest of transparency and our desire to address the concerns of Blackheath’s local residents, Handspan Limited (“Handspan”) provides the following response to the entirely inaccurate and wholly unsubstantiated accusations regarding the felling of trees situated at 8 The Glebe, Blackheath, London SE3 9TG (the “Property”). In this statement, we shall provide both the facts and the evidence to demonstrate that there has been no wrongdoing whatever on either the part of Galliard and/or Handspan.
Handspan is the owner of the Property – a house situated in Blackheath’s conservation area. Handspan is a Galliard group-related company. Currently, an old brick wall (the “Wall”) separates the Property’s garden from the public highway, fronting onto The Glebe.
On 25th April 2019, Handspan began works to fell two sycamore trees, referred to as T2 and T4 (the “Trees”) located immediately behind the Wall (the “Works”). The Trees were subject to Tree Preservation Orders. We refer to the Appeal Decision of the Planning Inspectorate (the “Inspectorate”) dated 26 September 2018 (the “Appeal Decision”), in which planning inspector Lesley Coffey ruled with reference to the Trees: “I consider that the safety risk posed by the tree outweighs the contribution it makes to public amenity” (with reference to T4 only) and also “...the works necessary to provide a retaining wall behind the boundary line is likely to result in significant damage to the root systems of T2 and T4. As a consequence, their survival and safety would be severely compromised…I consider that their survival would be severely compromised…I consider that the provision of a retaining wall in this location would be likely to result in the loss of trees along the frontage of the site” (with reference to both T2 and T4).
As a result of the Works, both Galliard and Handspan have been the subject of a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, making spurious and inaccurate allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Galliard and Handspan. For the record, both Galliard and Handspan entirely and wholeheartedly refute any and all such allegations, which appear to have been made on the basis of misguided opinion rather than on any fact or evidence.
The Works have been carried out in strict compliance with all planning permissions granted and conditions imposed therein. We refer to the Appeal Decision of the Planning Inspectorate (the “Inspectorate”) dated 26 September 2018 (the “Appeal Decision”) . The Planning Inspectorate is the government body responsible for handling appeals to planning decisions.
The Appeal Decision is broken down into Appeals A, B and C. Appeal A relates to the demolition of the Wall. Appeal B relates to the restoration of the Property, construction of a basement and the erection of two new dwellings. Appeal C relates to the proposal to fell one of the Trees, referred to as tree “T4” in the Appeal Decision.
Appeal A was allowed. Planning permission was granted to demolish the Wall and build a new wall in its place, the Wall being in dangerously poor condition. By way of background, in July 2017 part of the Wall collapsed onto the public highway. In November 2017, Lewisham Council’s (the “Council”) building surveyor, Mr Ring classified the Wall as a “dangerous structure” and that “it would be prudent for the wall to be removed by the owners at the earliest opportunity to save an enforcement action being taken following an unsavoury outcome with possible further collapse”. As a result of this, later in 2017, on the Council’s recommendation, Handspan erected a protective hoarding in front of the Wall, and in January 2018 Handspan made a planning application to demolish the Wall and replace it with a new wall. This application was refused by the Council in April 2018, which formed the basis of Appeal A.
In its evidence for the Public Inquiry the Council employed a consultant engineer, M Harriette. In his evidence from May 2018 he said “the risk of collapse of the unstable sections of the wall should be regarded as unacceptably high and potentially imminent” (Appeal Decision, para 19). At the Inquiry, both the Council and Handspan agreed that the Wall needed replacing. The Council proposed a retaining wall and Mr Harriette concluded that a “King Post system” would be the most appropriate method. Owing to a number of technical considerations, and based on a Ground Radar survey carried out by Handspan, the Inspectorate concluded that this would result in “significant damage to the root systems” of the trees immediately behind the Wall and, ultimately, necessitate their removal (Appeal Decision, paras 22-32). We draw your particular attention to paragraph 31 of the Appeal Decision in which the Inspector states, “the works necessary to provide a retaining wall behind the boundary line is likely to result in significant damage to the root systems of T2 and T4 [i.e. the Trees]. As a consequence, their survival and safety would be severely compromised…I consider that the provision of a retaining wall in this location would be likely to result in the loss of trees along the frontage of the site.”
In the Appeal Decision, the Inspectorate set out a number of conditions for the demolition of the Wall, felling of the Trees and the construction of a new wall in its place. Two of these conditions were as follows:
Condition A3 required Handspan to submit to the Council a “detailed plan… that clearly shows the existing trees that are to be retained or felled, including those adjacent to the site” – that plan requiring approval “in writing by the local planning authority” before any work is carried out.
Condition A7 required that “the proposal shall be implemented in accordance with the measure set out in the Bat Method Statement at Appendix C of the Total Ecology Bat Survey, Version 1 May 2018”. This bat survey, along with an earlier bat survey carried out by Handspan in June 2016, categorically states (at paras 1.0.4 and 1.0.5 of the Executive Summary to that report) that “…no bats were seen to enter or emerge from the tree and therefor it is conclude that bats are unlikely to roost in the tree. As no roosting bats were found to be utilising the trees it is deemed that the development will not result in the disturbance, modification or loss of any bat roosts and therefor will not impact upon bat populations”.
It has been alleged that felling the Trees has disrupted the nests of roosting bats. The purpose of the Total Ecology Bat Surveys included establishing “the presence/absence of bat roosts in the trees” and determining “an appropriate mitigation strategy to minimise impacts on roosting bats arising from the proposed works” (Bat Survey, para 2.3.1). The Surveys incorporated two separate nocturnal surveys that were undertaken on 13 May 2016 and 2 June 2016 and repeated again in May 2018. The nocturnal surveys found no evidence of bat roosts within the trees (Bat Survey, paras 4.1.3-4.1.5) and that the trees overall had a “negligible to low potential to contain roosting bats” (Bat Survey, para 2.1.2). Accordingly, both the surveyors and Inspectorate concluded that the removal of the trees would “not have a significant effect on the local bat populations” (Bat Survey, para 5.2.1; Appeal Decision, para 34). Furthermore, the Survey was clear that felling the trees “will not contravene legislation relating to bats and their roosts” (Bat Survey, para 5.7.1).
However, in their report, the surveyors explained that “Bat species also utilise a number of roosts throughout the year and a lack of evidence should not therefore be considered proof of a lack of bat roost” (Bat Survey, para 5.1.1). Accordingly, the surveyor recommended the imposition of certain measures on Handspan with the aim of both enhancing and incorporating biodiversity at and around the site. These included the addition of bat roosting features on the site, as well as enhancements for birds (such as nesting boxes) (Bat Survey, para 6.2.2). The Inspectorate also imposed an obligation on Handspan that “in the event bats are found to be roosting within the trees, measures are put in place to secure their welfare and comply with the relevant legislation” (Appeal Decision, para 35 and Condition A7).
Prior to the felling of the Trees, Handspan complied with the Bat Survey’s recommendations and the Inspectorate’s conditions in their entirety. There were no bats or bat roosts found in the Trees prior to their felling and Handspan and Galliard have and/or undertake to incorporate the biodiversity enhancements recommended in the Bat Survey.
In January 2019, after its first application having been refused by the Council, a second application was made to the Council to discharge conditions, which was approved on 18 March 2019. These conditions, therefore have been fully complied with.
In addition, prior to the tree-felling commencing, our experienced arboricultural contractor, Max Barton, undertook an inspection of the Trees and completed a Site Nesting Bird/Roosting Bat Check form dated 25 April 2019. The purpose of this form is to ensure compliance with the relevant Statutes and Regulations. This confirmed that a check for nesting birds and roosting bats had been carried out prior to any tree felling taking place.
Appeal B was dismissed insofar as it related to the erection of two detached dwellings, however was granted insofar as it related to the restoration of the house and construction of a basement. To be very clear, Handspan’s appeal for planning permission to erect two new dwellings in the garden of the Property was refused, therefore any alleged link between the felling of the Trees and the erection of two new dwellings is entirely unfounded as planning consent was in fact refused to erect two new dwellings.
Appeal C was allowed. This related to tree T4 only. The Inspectorate held, at paragraph 82 of the Appeal Decision, that tree T4 had “…a life expectancy of 10-20 years”. Various studies were carried out, including an Arboricultural Impact Assessment dated 25 April 2016 (“AIA”), aerial visual assessment and Picus tomograph in May 2017 and TreeRadar decay survey in September 2017. The results of these reports were as follows: The AIA concluded that due to the risk arising from the tree’s compression fork, due to the high amenity value of the tree, the risk could be managed by means of crown reduction and a flexible brace. The aerial survey found no significant external signs of decay and whilst the report did not recommend that the tree should be felled, there remained a moderate risk of stem failure over time or during severe weather events. The TreeRadar decay survey found that the proportion of sound wood varied from 48% to 66%.
In spite of the results of the abovementioned reports, the inspector, at paragraph 91 of the Appeal Decision, stated that “Whilst the risk from the tree is not immediate, the harm would be localised and could be mitigated to some extent by way of a replacement tree. Moreover, having regard to my conclusions in relation to Appeal A, it is apparent that the wall will need to be replaced in the near future and this will also have implications for the retention of the tree. Therefore in these circumstances, I consider that the safety risk posed by the tree outweighs the contribution it makes to public amenity”.
From the factual evidence stated in this summary, it can very clearly be seen that both Handspan and Galliard have taken every legal step required in this process. Please be assured that both Handspan and Galliard take their legal duties and environmental responsibilities very seriously, which we have evidentially demonstrated both in this statement and throughout our conduct to date.
 The Inspectorate’s Appeal Decision (ref APP/C5690/W/17/3176774) can be found at the following link: https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/ViewCase.aspx?CaseID=3176774&CoID=0