Council effectively gives green light for Marlhill tree felling

marlhill copse musical protest civic centre march 2019 460UPDATED City councillors effectively gave the green light for tree felling at Marlhill Copse at a planning meeting on Tuesday evening (March 12), despite opposition from residents and a ward councillor.



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marlhill copse musical protest civic centre march 2019 460

A group of around 20 opposers formed on the Civic Centre steps for a photo call ahead of a planning panel meeting, and greeted those arriving with protest songs.

The meeting was considering Southampton City Council's response to the Forestry Commission’s issuing of a felling licence to the airport, which now owns Marlhill Copse, and considering a tree work application required to carry out the felling.

There had been 30 objections and one comment in favour of the planning application.

The airport had previously explained that: “The tree management is part of aerodrome safeguarding work. Aerodrome safeguarding is the term used in aviation to allow for the management of obstacles to ensure planes can take off and land safely. It is a legislative issue that all airports must comply with.”

The meeting heard that the number of trees to be felled had been reduced from 27 to 20.

In support, a speaker from the airport said that normally tree work was an annual activity, but because it hadn’t been possible to carry out the work at Marlhill until its recent acquisition by the airport, it “had to deal with a lot of trees in one go”. It was anticipated it could then leave the area alone for a number of years with a management plan in place.

Had anybody hit the trees lately, asked panel chair Cllr John Savage. “I’m guessing probably not because we would have heard about it. Any close calls, is that particularly an issue, or are we going in the wrong direction with this?”

No, was the response, but it was explained that, regarding the “take off climb surface” a lot of safety tolerance in addition to what planes have to achieve to clear the trees is included in case an engine is lost or other serious problem occurs, so a plane can actually take off with one engine and return back to the airfield if necessary.

It was also explained that it was necessary to plan around weight aircraft can carry in order to clear obstacles sufficiently, and obstacles can limit operations.

“There is a risk, and it’s a growing risk, that it becomes commercially unviable for airlines to operate, which is a serious thing for the region’s economy,” said the speaker.

The chair later sought to clarify with the airport: “To some degree is it more of a commercial issue, rather than strictly speaking a safety issue?”

“There is a commercial benefit if planes can fly with more passengers on them they’re more likely to operate out of the airport, and it will affect the larger…”

At this point a member of the public interrupted, calling out: “And have bigger planes?”

The airport representative said the key thing for them was safety.

“There are approach surfaces that we know have obstacles. So under all legislation we are required now to remove anything, and have a plan in place to remove anything that impinges the surface. And that [Obstacle Management] Plan is agreed with the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority].”

The chair later sought assurances from the airport that there would be continued public access to the woodland. The airport representative said yes, “we want to retain the land for public use”. He later talked about future ownership and perhaps the council becoming involved.

Following the meeting, at which councillors approved the tree felling proposals despite a late attempt at an intervention from the floor by resident Ann MacGillivray, Bitterne Park councillor David Fuller, who had spoken against the plan, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“As I said at the time, I understand the panel’s concern about safety… but I think that the idea that trees that are fully matured, have reached their full height – there have been no incidents so far and planes are still flying, why would there suddenly be a change in that?

“I don't think there’s a need for this. I think we could have quite happily carried on as we were. The trees aren’t going to get any bigger, and I’m just disappointed the decision’s gone this way.”

Of the decision, Gareth Narbed – who had spoken and campaigned against the proposals – said he wasn’t “completely surprised, unfortunately”, and that he wasn’t “so happy about what information was taken into consideration”.

He’s since sent an email to councillors and MPs saying that a planning application should have been submitted for the main tree felling as it was “for commercial reasons not those of air safety”, and that it should be a decision for full council.

Play the audios below to hear our recordings of this item being discussed at the Planning and Rights of Way panel on March 12, 2019. Due to the size/length of the recordings they are divided across two files: the first is just over 55 minutes and about 80mb. The second is about 19 minutes and about 27mb. There is a very short break between the two recordings of perhaps 30 seconds or so. You may need to play at a fairly high volume to hear the discussion due to recording conditions. We hope the council will improve arrangements for recording similar meetings in future, or make them available themselves. As with other large files on the site, we may remove these without notice at any time for space reasons. Recordings are copyright but may be downloaded for personal use.

Part 1

No player? Try this link. Duration: approx 55 mins

Part 2

No player? Try this link. Duration: approx 19 mins

Article updated with audio files March 19

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