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“Oversight” by Council planners results in the loss of precious hedgerows

Dilys Merry
By Dilys Merry
8th September 2022

We love to share our ‘good news’ stories about planning processes  – unfortunately we now have a sorry tale to tell.

In January of this year our dedicated team of planning volunteers spotted application P220064/H.  This sought permission to remove 2 parallel hedgerows at Sellack to make space for agricultural reservoirs. We went there to investigate and wrote to the Council with a strong objection to the hedgerow removals. Their status under The Hedgerow Regulations for England (1997) was both ‘protected’ and ‘important’.

We were pleased to hear the case officer agreed with us and a Hedgerow Retention Notice was issued on 22nd February 2022. Sadly this was one day later than the application decision deadline on 21st February. When our team returned to the site on 23rd March the applicant had already dug up the hedgerows and cleared the ground. Our planning team raised this with the Council in April, their answer was that the hedgerows not been removed illegally. This was because “the decision deadline had been missed”. Their explanation was that due to the lack of planning officers “unfortunate incidences such as these inevitably occur”. Thus no enforcement was possible.

We wrote to Herefordshire Council raising an official complaint about the failure to meet their own timetables. In response they sent a letter on 15th August citing lack of staff as the reason for the “oversight”. You can read the full reply here. On a happier note the letter confirmed that they have recruited more staff to their team recently, including a qualified ecologist.

Looking to the future

It is clear that the Council are finding it difficult to recruit and retain experienced staff. Unfortunately, it is impossible to restore valuable ancient hedgerows once removed and a deeper understanding of this point is needed. We welcome the improved staffing and can only hope for more effective task management in future to maintain the legal protections on hedgerows.

View from Merbach Hill of rolling hills criss-crossed with hedgerows
Hedgerows support wildlife, protect the environment and tell our history Mark Bradbury