Nearly a year ago, I was appalled at the destruction of a mature urban woodland of 2 acres, and its wildlife, in the breeding and nesting season, between Saturday 13 June and Thursday 18 June 2020. It was done without consulting or informing residents, using bully boy tactics. There were birds, bats and hedgehogs there until the demolition crew moved in.
I started challenging what had taken place, and since then I have been corresponding with Guildford Borough Council (GBC), who supplied an agreement confirming this should be kept as a green area, and the landowner Legal & General (L&G).
Legal & General denied responsibility for the site. I then found out Legal & General had an agreement with a land management company, which hired the demolition crew, and its owner had ambitious development plans for the site next door of 79 or 91 student flats. Very worrying.
I was pretty sure Legal & General were legally liable. The damage could not be undone, but I wanted the site to be replanted and made into a new wildlife woodland, to reverse the damage they had done to climate change, wildlife and air pollution in this urban area.
Legal & General have at last agreed to do this and I hope, in a few years’ time, the site will be a green haven full of life again. I will be keeping an eye on it!
4 June 2021
1. The woodland of 2 acres was between Units 1-7 of Guildford Industrial Estate GU2 7YB and the back gardens of Ash Grove GU2 8UT. It was destroyed by a heavy demolition machine. Residents were not consulted or informed, and the bulk of the demolition took place over a weekend during Covid-19 restrictions when residents were unable to contact GBC.
2. I saw the devastation on a Guildford Facebook post, visited the site, and was appalled at the destruction of a mature woodland full of wildlife during the nesting and breeding season. I am the Coordinator of Save Surrey Countryside, and of Save Newlands Corner, but this was an urban woodland and I took it on in a personal capacity.
3. I was advised by the demolition firm that the landowner was L&G. I reported the situation to GBC Planning Enforcement and sent a complaint letter to the UK Chief Executive and UK Head of Investment at L&G.
4. My serious complaints included
a) Bully boy tactics by the contractors, Greenfield Demolition.
b) Disregard for the environment and its wildlife, protected species on the UK ‘red list’, and the laws and requirements relating to those, particularly at this time of climate change emergency and huge loss of biodiversity, and during the breeding and nesting season.
c) Disregard for the residents in 36 properties in Ash Grove, damage to their property, the effect on their health, mental wellbeing and short-term peace of mind by losing a much-loved green space they lived alongside, particularly at this difficult time with Covid-19, with no notice or consultation.
d) Disregard for a historical agreement, or for the spirit of it, on the use of the land.
e) Disregard for the health of the residents in Ash Grove, which is alongside the A3 dual carriageway, and for the people working at Cathedral Hill Industrial Estate, Guildford Business Park and Guildford Industrial Estate, by failure to assess the effect of removing this woodland on the air quality of the area, directly alongside the A3 dual carriageway through Guildford.
5. I made complaints to L&G, GBC planning enforcement, and Surrey Police. The Police said they could not prosecute without evidence of the wildlife that was there before, which was destroyed.
6. GBC sent me an Agreement dated 14 November 1989 showing this should be a green area and the trees should be replaced. However, L&G advised it was not responsible because it had a Land Agreement with a company called PB Living Limited. I disputed this and insisted they were liable.
7. I researched PB Living Limited and found it had no assets and the person who controlled it, Paul Brundell, and his companies had submitted to GBC planning a sequence of planning applications to develop the site at 1 & 2 Ash Grove with 79 student units, then increased to 91, then an unlimited number. He was trading through a series of frequently changing companies. He was well aware of the environmental requirements because he had provided them for the first planning application. I said it was a conflict of interest and L&G should dispense with the services of PB Living Limited.
8. Eventually GBC planning enforcement sent me a plan for replanting the woodland. I calculated the replanting scheme covered only 2% of the site, and said it was patently unsatisfactory.
9. GBC confirmed the landowner was responsible under the Agreement, and I obtained the Land Registry document to prove that was L&G.
10. Eventually a second replanting plan was sent to me with a more extensive planting scheme.
11. I set out to L&G what was wrong, and what I wanted them to do about it. They responded agreeing at last to my requests. They say the agreement with PB Living has been terminated; they are implementing a replanting programme in collaboration with GBC and their tree and landscaping experts; efforts to restore the woodland and its biodiversity are underway; some trees have already been replanted and this will continue as the planting season permits; the wood and scrub will be removed over the summer; the boundary fence will be reinstated to protect the privacy, safety and security of nearby residents as well as the industrial occupiers; and they are taking guidance on other ecological benefits that could be incorporated to promote biodiversity.
12. My next step would have been to take L&G to the Financial Conduct Authority which could have meant a substantial fine. So, they have got off lightly. I will continue to monitor the site, as will GBC, I hope. The whole episode was appalling, both the destruction of woodland and wildlife, and the fact that it has taken L&G this long to do the right thing.
The redacted correspondence, agreement, two replanting plans, Land Registry document, and two sets of photos, are also posted here. Please use the Contact Us button if you have any questions.
I am the Coordinator of Save Surrey Countryside. It has a Facebook page if you want to join.
Click on the links below to see the documents:-