Controversial work at Cheddington orchard site stops

The orchard as it looks now.
The orchard as it looks now.

The destruction of a much-loved Cheddington orchard has been halted following the issuing of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) and Temporary Stop Notice.

Last week, the LBO reported on trees being removed at a site in Station Road.

Residents thought that the site owners had jumped the gun in removing many trees on February 11, and Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) and Thames Valley Police visited the same day to investigate. Both confirmed that no breach of the law had occurred and AVDC then made a Tree Preservation Order on February 12.

It was also explained that the orchard had not been cleared because of a pending planning application by Manlet Group Holdings - who are waiting to see if an application for 35 houses is approved - but because the site’s owners had asked contractors WE Black to remove the trees because they were diseased.

However, residents contacted the LBO to voice their concerns, as WE Black continued to cut down trees after February 12, and to question the council’s handling of the planning application, which was submitted in 2017.

One male villager, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed: “The council served a TPO, but on Monday 18, WE Black’s men came back and cut down more trees and then came again on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 19 and 20).

“On Monday and Wednesday the council visited to tell them to stop, but the men ignored them and continued working!

“On Wednesday evening, the council served a temporary stop notice so work cannot be continued.

“We spotted WE Black on the land on Thursday but they were not doing any work, just looking around.

“AVDC should have served a Tree Preservation Order four years ago and those trees should have been made Red List trees. Are they really diseased?

“Why has the planning application taken so long? If the council had stopped the application four years ago maybe the orchard wouldn’t be destroyed now!

“We used to see bats, foxes, but now we look across and the orchard has been devastated. The workmen just cut down trees in front of AVDC enforcement. I think there were about 20 trees pulled up which had TPOs on and now there are about ten left.”

Residents also believe a rare beetle species lives on the site.

Speaking to the LBO, another resident claimed: “It will be convenient if the orchard is removed because then residents cannot write to the council and object that any houses there will destroy wildlife habitats.”

An Aylesbury Vale District Council spokesman, said: “Planning applications can be complex, require extensive external consultations and, despite the hard work put into them, can take longer to decide than we would like; particularly where there is significant local opposition.

“The planning application for the site included plans for many of the trees in the orchard to be retained meaning there was no apparent need for a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) However, given the scale of the work on 12/13 February a TPO was arranged in order to safeguard the ability to mitigate habitat loss as part of the planning process for the remainder of the site. Unfortunately, work continued on the site and so further formal enforcement powers were utilised.

“We have not undertaken an assessment of the health of the trees, but the TPO process allows for the consideration of objections and comments. If the site owner has information confirming the trees are diseased, they may provide this as part of an objection. There is evidence as to the presence of a noble chafer beetle on a separate part of the orchard, but not on this part of the site.”

However, Eric Gadsden, director of WE Black Ltd, said: “The TPO is dated February 12 and was sent to me under cover of a letter from the council dated February 21, posted on 22nd and which arrived on Saturday morning (February 23).

“I am not clear therefore how I am supposed to be in breach of a TPO which has not even been served! Furthermore I am advised that a commercial orchard is specifically exempt from TPO Legislation.”

He said he had also received a Temporary Stop Notice on February 21, adding: “It is very doubtful that this Notice is legally valid since the work to which it relates, effectively removing the orchard trees does not require planning in any event. However, to ensure compliance I instructed our men on site to cease work.”

Last week Mr Gadsden told the LBO: “This has nothing to do with planning [The Manlet Group Holdings application]. The orchard is privately owned by two individuals and we were instructed to clear the site because the trees are diseased and their life has expired. We are doing it for them before nesting season begins.”