The tree of strife

I’m sure it’s a lovely tree. But I can’t help but feel the £200,000 compensation bill to chop it down is a little excessive. That’s the fee being charged by a London council to compensate for the loss of a big old tree, to make way for up to 900 new homes, a hotel, shops, communal space and all manner of goodies that make a community. I’m being dismissive of this tree. But I care more for the community that has had the opportunity to enjoy it. And besides, surely it would be cheaper to move the thing.

It’s imperative that councils have the cash they need to function, and in the absence of government assistance, local authorities feel the need to be creative. This kind of ruse, however, is an ineffective and punitive example of the Emperor’s new clothes.

In 2015/16, 114,790 households applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance, an 11 per cent rise since 2010/11. The only way to house people is to build houses. Arbitrarily punishing developers does nobody any favours. Given the fact that developers could be paying £50,000 before authorities deem an application worth a glance, £200,000 to fell a tree is salt in the wound.

Rather than creating Pyrrhic victories using perfunctory charges, authorities should be making it easier to build homes and wielding their substantial influence to create more genuinely affordable housing to alleviate the genuine suffering of so many.

It is oft argued that politics has replaced religion as the opium of the people. One clear distinction however, is that whilst religion provided simple answers to complicated questions, politics endlessly seeks to obfuscate them. This is nowhere murkier than in the planning process. Rather than creating opaque procedures and restrictive fees, planning policy should seek to nurture cooperative relationships between local authorities and developers, so that each can achieve their goals and communities can be better provided for.

Ultimately, local authorities decide who gets to build and who doesn’t. They should use this privilege to ensure that high quality affordable houses are provided in the areas that need them most, rather than using the planning process to create transient revenue. The sure fire way to increase demand whilst decimating supply is to make this process any harder than it has to be.

This article was written by Gerard Cockburn, Account Executive with MPC.