Eco-campaigner and council candidate Tom Druitt has voiced his “relief” after another endangered healthy elm tree looks set for a reprieve.
The good news came after the planning committee on Brighton and Hove City Council rejected a bid by private school Brighton College to build a five storey study block where a rare healthy elm tree stands.
The tree is on land owned by the school and is in a conservation area. It would have been felled if the school’s plans for more buildings had been approved by councillors.
Tom is a Green candidate for Regency ward in next May’s local elections alongside his wife Councillor Alexandra Phillips and won credit with many residents for his swift direct action in aid of a previously threatened elm at Brighton’s Seven Dials roundabout in March 2013.
The healthy Seven Dials elm, which stands within the Regency ward, was at risk under a much praised streetscape plan to improve the junction.
The plan provoked a huge local community response which saw a residents’ campaign, backed by Green MP Caroline Lucas, persuade the council to find a way to avoid the tree’s demise.
The Seven Dials elm was ultimately saved after Tom and a fellow campaigner climbed up the tree and slept in it overnight preventing its demolition and providing a crucial breathing space for the council to make plans to incorporate the tree into the new street lay-out.
This time such direct action and tree climbing was not needed.
Tom encouraged people to lobby councillors on the planning committee and wrote a heartfelt appeal in his blog setting out why the elm should be saved, saying:
“…ultimately it’s not the fact that it’s a conservation area, or that the tree is an elm, or that the tree is rare, or that the tree is an important habitat and carbon sink, the biggest reason I object to this tree being felled is that it gives the wrong lesson to the next generation. We have an ecological disaster unfolding in front of us, where the scale of habitat loss and climate change puts us as a species at risk for the first time in our history…”
The councillors, who must consider each application on its merits and do not vote on planning matters on party lines, listened, voting by a majority to reject the school’s application.
Tom said, “I am hugely relieved that councillors made the right decision and helped to keep a healthy elm tree for the benefit of the school, pupils and the wider community.
“This was a very rare elm and its loss would have sent all the wrong messages about the importance of protecting our environment especially to young people.
“Thank you to everyone who voiced their concerns and thank you to the councillors for making the right decision when so many factors need to be weighed up a planning decision.
“It may seem to be about just another tree but this is an important and extremely welcome decision for the whole city because of what it demonstrates about local attitudes to protecting the environment.
“I hope that the council and the college can work together to ensure the college can build the new facilities it needs without felling the tree.”
There is some debate about what exact sub-species the elm belongs to with the council’s arboriculturist saying it is an English Elm and others suggesting the tree is a Wheatley Elm – both are rare and native to England.