Damage to dozens of trees prompts councillors to delay decision on plan for house

Councillors want to learn more about damage to dozens of protected trees on land in Brighton before deciding whether to grant planning permission for a new house on the plot.

They were given differing versions of the extent of the damage when Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee met at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 5 October).

But planning officials were not able to tell the committee whether the owner, local businessman Bulent Ekinci, 48, would face any enforcement action.

Any decision to prosecute Mr Ekinci – or the person who damaged the trees – would have to be made by officials from a different team at the council.

Spacewords Brighton

Mr Ekinci, who also runs the Meeting Place Café, on Hove seafront, already has outline planning permission to build a home on the land in Ovingdean Road.

His company Black Homes submitted detailed plans for a two-storey detached house, with five bedrooms, close to a bend in the road, next to a property known as Hillside.

Dozens of objections were sent to the council, raising concerns about lack of parking, the effects on wildlife and the effects on the South Downs National Park.

A previous planning application was turned down because of the location – between two tight bends – but, despite this, the 2019 outline plan was approved.

Today, council planning manager Nicola Hurley told the committee that seven protected trees were “unlawfully felled” and a further 23 “irreversibly damaged” by chainsaws on Monday 11 July.

She later said that four trees had been felled and 21 damaged, mostly or all sycamores, after comments made by the council’s arboriculturist – or tree expert.

Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh, who represents Rottingdean Coastal ward, which includes Ovingdedan, backed residents who objected to the plans.

Councillor Fishleigh told the Planning Committee that the council’s arboricultural and legal teams had a last-minute meeting with planning officials to discuss the protected trees.

Councillor Bridget Fishleigh

She said: “I was told yesterday that the trees chopped down were not on the TPO (tree preservation order) plan.

“But TPO trees were damaged by the indiscriminate use of chainsaws and more would have followed if neighbours had not rushed out and called the arbi (arboricultural) team at the same time.

“Looking at the plans, if approved, trees with TPOs will need to be removed. You have the chance today to save these trees by rejecting this application.

“I don’t think removing multiple trees with TPOs is an acceptable price to pay for a huge house.”

A neighbour, Martin Blake, said that many people in Ovingdean objected to the plans because of the loss of trees and the position of the proposed house.

Mr Blake said that he did not believe that the council had consulted the South Downs National Parks about the scheme – but the house would be visible from the national park.

He said: “I’m pretty sure if they were to be asked, the application might be refused because it is going to ruin the visual effect of the park.”

Trees were felled or damaged in Ovingdean on a site next to Hillside

Labour councillor Clare Moonan asked whether the National Park had been invited to comment. She was told that it was not a “statutory consultee”.

Umut Kilic, who represented Black Homes, said that the outline planning permission was already in place when Mr Ekinci bought the land to build his family home.

Ms Kilic said that most of the trees at the site were “low quality”, with a lifespan of 10 years, and that any protected trees that were lost would be replaced.

She also responded to the comments about views from the National Park, saying: “Just 100 metres from our site, there is a new development under construction for 45 new houses.

“We would like a fair approach from the committee. This is not a new application. There is already an outline application for a two-storey house and it should be granted.”

Conservative councillor Carol Theobald said that the committee should defer its decision so that members could be given more information – and her proposal won unanimous support.

Green councillor Leo Littman, who chairs the committee, said: “We can defer this to wait for the arboricultural team so that we can fully understand what’s gone on and is going on.”

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