Campaigners trying to save a Sycamore tree from being felled in Margate have launched a fundraiser to pay costs for a legal fight.
The Save the Duke group, who are currently on day 5 of an occupation of the site of the tree in Duke Street, is now being supported by Fight Planning Crimes, a new collective which will challenge the legalities of the planned felling.
The collective is represented by Paul Powlesland, an environmental lawyer who runs Lawyers for Nature.
Permission to fell the tree was originally given in 2018 as part of an approval for a planning application to develop the site.
A notification of works this month was submitted by Duns Developments, based in Luton, for removal of the tree to clear the site ahead of building a four-storey property with five flats and a commercial unit.
The area the tree is in was one of two plots that were earmarked as garden sites under a Countdown to Turner scheme in 2011. However despite a spend of £7,881 on design, consultation and soil sample for the site and another at Cobbs Place, the gardens did not come to fruition.
The site was sold at auction as part of Thanet council’s asset disposal programme in February 2017. In 2018 permission was granted for the flats development. An application for a four-storey build on the site was previously approved in 2007 when the site formed part of a larger redevelopment scheme known as the Queen’s Arms Yard but that permission expired.
A spokesperson for the campaign group, which wants to see the community garden plans revived and has questioned where the remainder of the £41k allocated pot for the site and Cobbs Place garden has gone, said: “We are a group of concerned individuals who have come together to challenge planning crimes against the environment in Thanet and beyond.
“To start with we are raising funds towards legal costs to challenge Thanet District Council’s approval for the felling of the Duke Street Sycamore, the largest and oldest tree in Margate Old Town.
“This is just one of many environmental and planning incidents which are indicative of our local council’s lack of care for our environment, and of a planning system which is not fit for purpose at both a local and a national level.
“Thanet has just 4 % tree canopy cover and much less in central Margate. We believe Thanet deserves better!
“We have plenty of evidence for possible crimes against the environment (going back many years) and are being advised by a top environmental barrister who is known for successful litigation in support of nature across the UK.
“Donations (for the fundraiser) will help us to create a better world for wildlife, residents, the visitors of Thanet, and beyond.”
Campaigners had previously handed a ‘notice of liability’ to Thanet council.
A council spokesperson said: “Consent to approve the felling of the sycamore tree in Duke Street, Margate was granted by the Planning Committee in June 2018, prior to the (council’s) Climate Emergency declaration.
“At the time, greater weight was given to using the site, which is in a Conservation Area, in a positive way and the recent notice to the council of intention to fell the tree took this previous permission and full planning analysis into consideration.
“The ‘notice of liability’ which has been raised has no legal grounds and is not a valid route to challenge this decision.”
Thanet council says that whilst the decision from 2018, before the Climate Emergency was declared, will mean the loss of the tree, the authority will be working hard to ensure that many more trees are planted across the district.
The council adds that as part of the new tree strategy it will also be reviewing its planning policies to ensure that they are effective and to place more value on trees on development sites.
The spokesperson added: “The council is currently developing a district-wide tree strategy to plan where trees can be added and what species would be suitable in each specific area. Our Local Plan also includes a biodiversity net gain policy which has to be considered when determining all planning applications.”
The council has previously advised the applicant that the tree cannot be felled during the bird nesting season and that it is an offence to remove, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built.
The Duke Street protest camp will be hosting live music from 2pm. Find the crowdjustice page at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-the-duke-street-sycamore/
Find the petition at https://www.change.org/savetheduke