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Woodland Trust criticises planners over decision to move 500-year-old mulberry tree

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 06 August 2019

The London Chest Hospital showing World War II bomb damage. Pic: Courtesy of Barts Health Archives and Museums

The London Chest Hospital showing World War II bomb damage. Pic: Courtesy of Barts Health Archives and Museums

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A conservation charity has criticised council planners for failing to protect a 500-year-old tree which survived the Blitz.

The Woodland Trust has criticised planners at Tower Hamlets Council for allowing a developer to move a 500-year-old mulberry tree. Picture: Bob PhilpottsThe Woodland Trust has criticised planners at Tower Hamlets Council for allowing a developer to move a 500-year-old mulberry tree. Picture: Bob Philpotts

The Woodland Trust raised the alarm after Tower Hamlets Council planning chiefs approved plans by developer Crest Nicholson to move the veteran mulberry tree at the Grade II-listed London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

This was in spite of changes to guidelines in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) giving ancient woodland and trees the same protection as listed buildings.

The framework states when deciding applications, local planning authorities should refuse if a development results in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats unless there are "wholly exceptional" reasons.

But the charity has said that "inappropriate" developments have been approved by a number of councils over the last year resulting in "unacceptable" loss or damage. It highlighted the mulberry tree as one such case.

The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green which is due for demolition.The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green which is due for demolition.

The Woodland Trust's director of conservation, Abi Bunker, said: "We need all planning authorities and developers to fully implement the changes and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations."

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A Tower Hamlets spokesman said the development would not result in the loss of the mulberry tree but its relocation to a more accessible, less constrained part of the site.

He added: "The relocation proposals have been carefully prepared by arboriculture consultants. The relocation strategy will be controlled through planning conditions.

"The re-use of an important listed building with the provision of much needed homes and affordable housing were considered to be public benefits meeting the NPPF."

A Crest Nicholson spokeswoman said the tree will be moved to a more prominent location on the grounds.

She added: "We have worked with leading arboriculturists and specialists to undertake extensive ground investigation, studying the roots of the tree and developing a robust strategy, conditioned in the planning consent, to ensure it is translocated in a manner which gives it the best possible opportunity to flourish.

"We have taken dozens of cuttings which are all growing extremely well and will be planted locally, extending the tree's heritage."

A legal challenge was upheld in 2017 requiring Crest Nicholson to seek specific approval for the translocation of the tree.

The trust estimates there are 441 ancient woods in England still under threat from live planning applications.

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