Support conversion not demolition of Bradley Lane

Friday 8th October saw the public release of the planning application for Bradley Lane in Newton Abbot (22/01500/MAJ), writes ACT Wildlife Warden Eloise Rokirilov.  Long pending, starting at 171 documents and growing, the expiry date for comments remains at 4th November. The application calls for wholesale demolition of all the buildings, the burial and diversion of the medieval leat, and the construction of 90 new residential properties.   

Why is Bradley Lane of interest or importance to anybody? 

Of environmental as well as historic and archaeological importance, Bradley Lane is a brownfield site containing a set of attractive mill buildings, and a medieval leat that runs through the valley and into the town, joining the River Lemon underground near the Jolly Farmer. Mills have been sited on or around the area since the 13th century. They were originally built to serve Bradley Manor, the nearby Grade I listed National Trust property.  

The buildings are a testament to the wealth and contribution of the Vicary family, who were key to the industrial prosperity of Newton Abbot. Employing around 700 people at its peak in the 1800’s, the family’s substantial business interests included wool milling, fellmongery (stripping wool from sheepskins) and tanneries. With the increasing use of synthetic rather than natural materials, among other things, the business finally closed in 1972. Bradley Lane cottages were, of course, workers cottages in their time, and there is a WW2 bunker between the mills and the old Benbows buildings.  

Suffering repeat destruction from fire and flood over the centuries, the mills were proudly rebuilt on each occasion. The current buildings display a family plaque, “JV & S Rebuilt 1883”, celebrating its reconstruction in this year before its penultimate catastrophe, there also being a fire in 1921. 

The mill buildings are far from the end of their life, being built of red brick, Devon limestone and local clay brick, some of the strongest material around. Historic England and the government themselves have started shouting more loudly about the need to avoid demolition, and instead retrofit and convert buildings as a way of meeting net zero. In a climate and ecological crisis, this makes sense. Demolition releases substantial carbon and other particles into the atmosphere.  

Purchased by Teignbridge District Council in 2010, the mills continued to be used for commercial purposes. The council profess a long term intention to develop the site, and is proud of championing social housing on a brownfield site. Councillors state the intention is for the proposed development to include 44% affordable housing. However, the Viability Assessment report indicates a flat refusal by the developer to provide affordable housing as it is not financially viable. Instead, the intention is to sell 18 of the 90 units (20%) to the Guinness Trust, which will provide social rent housing. Homes England have offered funding of £2,063,400. 

More crucially for the environment, the Waste Audit Statement shows striking, estimated figures:  

  • 14,000 tonnes of concrete, brick and stone to be demolished, and recycled on site. 
  • 240 tonnes of asbestos to be removed and transported to landfill. 
  • 5 tonnes of greenery to be cut down and recycled off site. 
  • 450 tonnes of tarmac to be recycled on site. 

The present site has young trees on the west side by the River Lemon, and semi mature trees at the base of Hunterswell Road, where the recent bus survey proposed to put a bus lane, but according to this application, will instead have one self build plot on it.  

The Ecological Mitigation report shows thorough work on bat surveys, although it does not mention the leat, which is known to contain European eels, a protected species. However, it has general ‘mitigation’ measures for amphibians and reptiles. There are more details in the 2019 survey report showing that the site is within the South Hams SAC for Greater Horseshoe bats, and located within a Devon Great Crested Newt consultation zone. Also that otters had been recorded within 1km of the survey area. Mitigation will involve staged cutting, in order to allow nature to escape.    

Arsenic is recorded at 15 times the acceptable level and “the results of the risk assessment have shown that the concentration of arsenic within the upper made ground and lower natural soils poses a potentially significant risk of causing harm to end users of the environment”.  The document nonetheless maintains that there are no concerns of contamination, danger or pollution to people or the water course. 

 Newton Abbot & District Civic Society applied to Historic England for listing for the buildings, as well as to TDC’s own Community Asset Register, which would also allow a Community Right to Bid should the owner decide to sell. The latter issued a flat rejection stating, “the buildings do not fulfil the requirements of the Localism Act 2011″. They also failed to meet the listing criteria for Historic England. They were noted for their strong local importance, but did not meet enough national criteria and had suffered too many changes over time. TDC did not respond to requests for  internal viewings of the buildings, so any internal features could not be noted in the application.  

Having evicted their last commercial tenant in March this year, TDC is presumably paying each month for the buildings, which could explain the determination to succeed with the current planning application, in an effort to recoup finance and resolve the future of the site. Of the evicted commercial tenants, at least two returned to Torquay, losing business for Newton Abbot. Benbow Interiors moved to the Brunel estate in 2019 in a deal that saw a new, funded site being built for them.

NADCS had already engaged a national charity, Save Britain’s Heritage, who took the time to visit Newton Abbot with an architect in tow, and were inspired to produce a 32 page report with architectural illustrations showing an entirely different vision for the site. They advised it is possible to accommodate 111 homes by way of conversion and some new build, including 28 affordable homes, which is more than the present application. The architect has worked on some major post-industrial sites including Heartlands in Cornwall and Sarsons Vinegar Factory in London. There are many examples around the country of successful conversions, including Digbeth in Birmingham and Finzels Reach in Bristol to name two more.  

We are in a time of mass development, and a common theme of lack of affordability. Cranbrook in Exeter is currently in the news with another 1,000 houses proposed on 220 hectares of former farmland. The question has to be asked, where does it end?

With a deadline of 4th November, we would urge readers to comment on the planning application, and support conversion instead of demolition.(www.teignbridge.gov.uk/planning and search reference 22/01500/MAJ).

Other links:

Council’s carbon reduction targets won’t do the job

Following its Climate Emergency declaration three years ago, Teignbridge District Council has published and adopted Part 1 of its Climate Action Plan. Part 2 is expected later this year.

Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) welcomes the long-awaited plan, believing it is an essential first step in delivering on the council’s commitment to be a carbon neutral district by 2025. It is excellent to see standards set, but ACT has concerns that the emission reduction targets included in the plan are based on outdated data and will not make the difference we need to see.

Part 1 of the plan sets out how the council expects to reduce carbon emissions in its own sphere, in things it owns, purchases, funds and supplies. Part 2 will cover the wider district, including transport, housing, businesses, land use, energy and infrastructure.

The plan includes 39 actions, four policies and 11 targets. ACT has no major problem with the actions or policies. It is primarily the targets that need further work.

Carbon emission targets are set by reference to a carbon budget. The budget sets a limit on the cumulative amount of greenhouse gases an organisation, a country or the world can emit that gives a significant chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is like a financial budget, where you set yourself weekly or monthly spending limits so you don’t go overdrawn.

In the case of carbon budgets, the limits are how much carbon can be emitted over a time period, to make sure we don’t trigger runaway climate change. We can’t afford the equivalent of an overdraft when it comes to the climate!

Carbon budgets have to be adjusted as the average global temperature rises and to take account of whether targeted emission reductions have been achieved. Global warming has now reached 1.2C and we are on track to reach 1.5C by the early 2030s, if not earlier. The tighter the budget, the more likely we are to limit global warming.

The Teignbridge plan states that the council aims to limit its cumulative emissions “to levels consistent with 1.5°C and well below 2.0°C of global warming”. This needs revising as, at the COP26 climate meeting held in Glasgow last year, governments agreed to make 1.5C the firm limit to aim for, due to the risks of allowing any further warming.

The basis for setting the council’s carbon budget also needs revision, as the budget calculation uses data from a 2018 study. That doesn’t sound too out of date, but there has been a significant rise in average global temperature since then. Moreover, setting targets for emission reductions based on this budget means they fall well below the UK government’s legal requirements.

ACT believes the council should use the government’s statutory carbon budget to set its targets. It would be even better if it used the Paris Agreement targets, as ACT has proposed.

There is a big difference between these various targets. The annual emission reductions required under the Paris Agreement (for a likely, or 67% chance of staying within 1.5C) are 10.4% year on year. To meet the UK’s statutory requirements (for a 50/50 chance), they are 7.9% year on year. The Teignbridge plan targets are based on a study that recommends a minimum carbon reduction of 4.2% flat rate.

There is another issue: the targets only include the council’s direct emissions. These are mainly from heating council buildings and fuel used in the council vehicle fleet. These are known as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, and only account for about one-third of the council’s annual emissions. The bulk of the emissions, known as scope 3, are indirect, from stuff the council buys, mainly for building work and services they buy in.

The plan does have ambitions to influence the council’s suppliers with regard to scope 3 emissions, but they are not included in the targets.

Finally, while most of the 39 actions in the plan are good, some excellent, there is no indication of the expected emissions reduction for each action, or the timescale involved. ACT believes this should be addressed as soon as possible, and that a regular review of progress against the expected reduction for each action should also be part of the plan.

Teignbridge District Council still has work to do on its Carbon Action Plan.

Could you be a parish Wildlife Warden?

The ACT Ecology Group is looking for parish-based, volunteer Wildlife Wardens, writes Audrey Compton. They are needed to help support, protect and increase our district’s wildlife and improve its chances of surviving the ecological and climate emergencies we face. Wildlife Wardens need to love wildlife but don’t need specialist knowledge, we will provide training.

Having Wildlife Wardens will help our communities become more involved in the natural world, enhancing their physical health and giving them more joy and happiness.

Our aim is for all 54 Teignbridge parishes and Newton Abbot wards to have one or two Wildlife Wardens by the end of 2021. As our training capacity increases, we will recruit up to 5 wardens for each Parish.

Who can be a Wildlife Warden and what will they do?

Anyone who is interested in or knowledgeable about wildlife/ecology can become a Warden. You will:

  • Commit to giving your parish’s wildlife several hours of your time a month.
  • Look out for opportunities to protect, help and increase the wildlife in your parish.
  • Carry out practical work in your parish that will benefit wildlife.
  • Either work in a team or possibly train to lead local volunteers on practical tasks (or you could call in specialists from ACT Ecology Group).
  • Send ACT and your parish council a brief, monthly account of what you have been doing, so we can all share successes and difficulties.

Wildlife Wardens in neighbouring parishes could work together on joint projects. Wardens with special skills and knowledge might also help train other Wardens.

Unfortunately, we don’t have funds to pay for Wardens’ expenses. However, Wardens who are ACT members will be covered by our insurance.

Some of our existing parish wildlife groups will be Wildlife Wardens, organising work and sharing expertise. If there isn’t a local group, Wildlife Wardens can work together – and maybe even start a group.

Project areas:
A. Surveying and helping to improve and connect habitats.
B. Promoting organic wildlife gardening
C. Monitoring building and development within the parish and alerting ACT of any wildlife damage.

The Ecology Group hopes to provide free training in these areas:

  • Identification of all types of wildlife
  • Habitat management and connectivity: hedges, woodlands, meadows, verges, ponds
  • Farming and wildlife
  • Writing risk assessments – and working with them!
  • Wildlife gardening
  • Creating pesticide-free zones
  • Carrying out desktop surveys
  • Monitoring planning applications and developments.

We will stay in close contact with the Council’s Green Spaces Team, and collaborate wherever we can, but we are aware their resources are limited. We have support from Teignbridge District Council, RSPB, the Woodland Trust and Devon Biodiversity Record Centre.

We have been granted funding by Teign Energy Communities, Councillor Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund and Dartmoor National Park Authority, and extend our thanks to them for this vital help. Among other things it has enabled us to appoint a coordinator for a few hours a week, who will ensure good communication and record keeping.

If you are interested in becoming a parish Wildlife Warden, please get in touch with our coordinator, Flavio Winkler Ford: flavio@actionclimateteignbridge.org

Plant that tree, but make sure it’s the right tree in the right place

Tree planting is fast becoming a national mania as research shows that trees are a key ally in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Planting without due care and attention won’t get us far though. It is all about planting the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. This was a mantra repeated often by speakers at a tree planting seminar held recently by Teignbridge District Council and the Woodland Trust for councillors and community groups.

Dominic Scanlon of Aspect Tree Consultancy illustrated the “right tree in the right place” point by mention of an oak tree someone unknown has planted between two semi-mature trees in Forde Park in Newton Abbot. “It looked like the right place but over the long term we will end up with three poor specimen trees” because there isn’t enough space for all of them, he said. You have to think in terms of decades when planting trees.

Trees in Stover Country Park

TDC commissioned a study last year of the trees it owns. Trees have been considered a burden in the past because of the costs of maintenance, Mr Scanlon said, but they can also be viewed as an asset for their role in carbon capture and storage, and protection from storm water run-off. When considered from that perspective, the benefits far outstrip the costs. 

This is the value attributed to TDC’s tree population, as measured using iTree, which calculates the economic worth of trees based on the ecosystem services they provide :

  • The replacement cost of the trees is £16m.
  • They store more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon worth £1.3m.
  • They bring £20,000 of benefit in pollution capture and water run-off capture.
  • They have a public asset value of £144m.

The study also showed Teignbridge has a diverse population of trees with the most common species being oak, ash, sycamore and birch. In terms of pollution capture and carbon storage, the oak is the most important species, followed by beech, ash and sycamore. This is because they are the older, larger trees that confer the most benefits on the ecosystem. 

Of course, ash trees are under threat from dieback, caused by a fungus. The disease is expected to kill nearly all of them (94%). Infected trees become brittle and liable to drop branches, which makes them a risk, particularly in public spaces or where they overhang roads. TDC owns 3,800 ash trees and has only removed four to date, but has been planting to replace the trees that will be lost and has almost replaced the full 3,800 already. 

Councils need to develop a plan to deal with ash trees they own, said Mr Scanlon. He recommended the Ash Dieback Action Plan Toolkit available from the Tree Council

Private landowners may also need to take action. Bob Stevenson, tree officer for Devon County Council, said the council estimates there are 448,000 ash trees within falling distance of roads across the county, most of which are on private land.

For 2020, TDC plans to plant a further 1,500 native trees provided by the Woodland Trust on three sites (Sandringham Park Newton Abbot, Michaels Field, Bishopsteignton, Dawlish Leisure Centre, Sandy Lane, Dawlish), plus 15 fruit trees in a community orchard in Bishopsteignton. The aim is to plant adjacent to existing woodland to help create corridors for wildlife.

Heather Elgar of the Woodland Trust said the UK currently has 13% tree cover (10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland), which is significantly lower than for European countries. The Committee on Climate Change, which gives independent advice to the UK government, recommends aiming for tree coverage of 19%. The Trust supports this and considers how to do it in its recently published Emergency Tree Plan for the UK.

Graham Burton, also of the Woodland Trust, took up the theme of right tree, right place but cautioned that it isn’t easy to adhere to that principle. It is about creating a community of trees, a woodland assembly, not just a collection of trees, he said, pointing out there are 24 types of woodland.

The Trust has a preference for natural regeneration over planting but recognises it is not always possible. The drawback to planting is that guards are required and these are often plastic. Biodegradable options are under investigation.

The Trust’s ambitions are to work at landscape scale. For example, it aims to reforest 2% of Cornwall and double canopy cover in Bristol. There is capacity in UK nurseries to produce 100m UK sourced and grown trees, said Mr Burton; the hurdle is finding enough land to plant on. “80% of the UK is farmland, so unless farmers are supported to plant trees under the natural capital banner, it will be really hard to get enough trees planted.”

Teignbridge has a lot of smaller woodlands, he added, and we need to find ways of joining them up. He also gave brief details of the funding and help available for medium scale planting (between 0.5 and 3 hectares) and the free trees available to schools and communities.

Steve Edmunds of the Forestry Commission also gave details of the funding streams for woodland creation and management that local authorities and other landowners can access. These include Countryside Stewardship, targeted at biodiversity and water management, the Woodland Creation Planning Grant, mainly targeted at productive woodlands, and the Woodland Carbon Code, which helps landowners obtain top-up funding for carbon offsetting for businesses.

Then came the reality check. ACT’s Audrey Compton said planting trees is necessary but not sufficient. “Even if we planted every square metre of Teignbridge with trees we still couldn’t make our lives carbon neutral,” she said. 

The annual average carbon footprint in the UK is 13 tonnes, including imported goods. We each need four mature trees to offset that footprint. And as long as we keep using soya and palm oil, planting trees won’t help much. Both crops are often planted on land cleared of rainforest. Soya is widely used in animal feed, making it important to avoid buying imported beef and intensively reared meat. Palm oil is used in many food products and toiletries, although labelling doesn’t always make that clear.

Audrey also spoke of the power of hedges to connect nature and reduce flooding. She showed how the hedges in her steep fields grow along contour lines, and said there is evidence there were more hedges in the past. This approach to planting slows down water run-off and soil erosion. 

“We need to work with the Environment Agency and local farmers to put hedges in the right places, but these are projects that Parish Councils and local Climate Action Groups can help with,” said Audrey. She highlighted how volunteers this month planted 6,000 trees, including 3,500 as hedgerows, in Ide and Shillingford, two parishes in Teignbridge.

Finally, there was welcome news from Cllr Jackie Hook, portfolio holder for climate change on TDC, who said the council will extend its climate emergency declaration to an ecological one too. 

Increasing tree coverage is an essential element in any plan to deal with both of those emergencies, provided we put the right trees in the right place. 

Further reading:

Exeter based Treeconomics has done reports on the ecosystem service value of the tree populations in Exeter, Exmouth and Torbay. The Torbay report finds the area’s estimated 818,000 trees store 98,100 tons of carbon and sequester a further 4,279 tons each year.  They also remove 50 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere each year, a service with an estimated value of £281,000, while the structural value of the trees has been calculated at a remarkable £280m.