Middleton One Row Heritage Views Project Update

Middleton St George Parish Council has recently secured external funding to progress a woodland management scheme for the area of woodland adjacent to the River Tees at The Front, Middleton One Row.

Middleton One Row’s historic character is defined by its proximity to the River Tees. The importance of views to the character of the village is noted in both this management plan and Darlington Borough Council’s 2010 Conservation Area Appraisal for Middleton One Row:

‘The Front is where the river meets the Conservation Area, with elevated views across the river to the North Yorkshire countryside. Part of the route of the Teesdale Way runs along the river and is accessible from ‘The Front’.

‘Most of the areas of green space around the village are designated as Areas of High Landscape Value or Village Green. It is the quality of these spaces that remind the observer how close the countryside is; the view across the River Tees from The Front is a particularly prominent example of this and should be protected.’

The Parish produced a management plan for this area in 2014, with support from Groundwork NE & Cumbria. One of its aims was to ‘maintain visual amenity of The Front, in particular river views valued by local residents’.

These views have only recently been lost, as many local residents can recall. Up until the 1950s the Green was a sheep meadow but since grazing ceased trees have gradually colonised the lower slopes and closed in the canopy.

This project will sensitively address the unhindered growth and natural succession of this woodland area to help regain some of these culturally important views whilst sensitively managing this amenity woodland.

An independent Arboricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) was commissioned by the Parish in 2018 to identify trees of high value. Darlington Borough Council’s Ecologist and Arboricultural Officer were also consulted, all prior to the applications for funding. This was to ensure that trees of a high ecological value are retained.

A sketch plan produced by Groundwork shows areas where we propose to selectively thin new, younger growth and lift the canopy of some larger trees in order to sensitively open up these views again. Larger trees would only be felled if they were deemed to be dangerous (i.e., dead, dying or diseased).

As much of the timber removed as possible will be used on site to provide habitat piles to enhance biodiversity or chipped to help improve informal access paths.

This project is also supported by the Friends of The Front Action Group and it is hoped that once the woodland management work is done the Friends will be able to continue to maintain the thinned out areas more easily to prevent the blockage of views in future.

Update June 2019

A number of queries have been received.  The responses are below.

If anyone has any further comments or questions, could these be directed to:

  • The Parish Clerk, Alan Macnab (msgclerk@aol.com), who will forward them to Groundwork (who are managing the Project) and the Parish Council
  • To Darlington Borough Planning Department (enquiries@darlington.gov.uk), as comments under the reference 19/00490/TFC

Question 1

I would like if possible a copy of the impact assessment regarding the subject, including a list of types of trees to be removed and their precise location if possible.

Can you advise if the Woodland Trust, the RSPB, the butterfly conservation trust or the Royal Entomological Society have been contacted for their views on the impact of the works on flora and fauna in the vicinity.

Can you advise also the time scale involved, most importantly when the work is set to commence please?

Question 2

I understand from Darlington Council’s Planning Portal that the Parish Council has made an application to clear a number of trees on the banks of the Tees overlooked from The Front – The Middleton One Row Heritage Views Project.

Firstly I am surprised that this application has been made without any apparent consultation with the local community.  As you are no doubt aware, there are several active groups within the village social media, all of whom seemed to have missed this until the application was made.

Given the PC’s regular objections to development proposals which often cite the lack of community engagement/consultation as an indicator of the level of contempt the applicant must hold the community in, I find this very disappointing.  More so given that these works will be carried out in our community’s name.

That said, I actually think that this is a good idea.  I think it will improve the environment along The Front and also encourage more people to visit the village.  Or indeed make better use of the one they already live in.

I do however have a few comments that I hope will be considered when looking at the works:

  1. Landscaping – The current application refers to tree clearance, but does not identify what landscaping works will be completed to the cleared areas. If/when the trees are cleared, people will want to use these new routes down to the river.  Is it the intention to leave this as exposed earth (assuming the shrub/saplings will be removed at the same time) or will it be seeded?  Will it be regraded to form easier access down the bank?  Has the PC considered that the new routes will create baron strips/ad hoc footpaths to the river and is the PC looking to create new footpaths/steps to the existing paths by the river?
  2. Car parking – I noticed that DBC installed cameras along The Front over the bank holiday weekend to monitor car parking along the road. Really the worst thing for The Front and the new owners of the Devonport will be to restrict parking along the road/kerb. As above, bringing people into the village should be seen as a positive thing, as is supporting local businesses.
  3. Tree Crowning – whilst I can accept the clearing of mature trees in the general woodland on the river bank, the trees along the road make a critical contribution to the character of Conservation Area. The importance of people’s ability to engage with – to touch, take shelter under and to ‘conker’ the trees should not be under estimated.  It creates a tangible bond between residents, the community and their environment.  Exactly the kind of engagement the PC is presumably wanting to achieve through these removal works.

Of particular and specific note is the enormous sycamore tree at the eastern end of The Front.  As a family we have known and loved this tree for the past 25 years having lived looking at it and now walking the dog under it several times a day. 

It is a magnificent tree and will outlive us all.  It does not deserve to have its magnificence reduced through vanity, nor through an arrogant dismissal of these concerns on the basis that it is only minor works/crowning etc.  Please leave it alone.  It has done nothing to you and any crowning works will have absolutely no impact on the wider delivery/success of the project.

I wish you luck with the scheme.  A properly and publicly presented scheme, incorporating historic precedent images and a well-considered landscaping strategy could win a lot of support and avoid the inevitable cries of ‘environmental vandalism’.  The current Groundworks document is not the answer.

Response

Q1 Groundwork have followed the correct procedures in consulting the local planning authority and following their guidance in relation to trees in conservation areas.

(Consultation informed the Middleton One Row Conservation Area Character Appraisal November 2010)

Before the very start of the project, a number of meetings were held in the Devonport.  These were hosted by the Friends of the Front (whose membership at the time was in excess of twenty people), and were open to all members of the village.  The aims of the meetings were to discuss what work needed doing, and how grants could be applied for via the Parish Council.

This led to the 2014 Management Plan being drawn up by Groundwork NE and Cumbria, which was agreed by the Parish Council at the time.  This Management Plan included, as one of its aims, to “maintain visual amenity of The Front, in particular river views valued by local residents”

Phase One was completed a couple of years ago, so the next stage was to address how the trees could be sensitively managed in order to restore the historic views (Phase Two).

The objectives of Phase Two, therefore, are:

  • To open viewing points without compromising the overall impact of the wooded area.
  • To continue the task of removing invasive undergrowth such as brambles, nettles, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed.
  • To remove self-seeded saplings and a few carefully selected mature trees
  • To ensure, under the guidance of professionals, that there is no negative effect on the biodiversity of the area or the stability of the riverbanks

Groundwork consulted DBC Biodiversity Officer (Phil Roxby), who attended a site visit and provided a preliminary ecology risk assessment at the time. His advice was –

  • to obtain a tree works impact assessment from a qualified arboriculturalist (completed)
  • to leave those trees with substantial cover of ivy – these would be marked up prior to felling
  • advise the Parish Council of the need to have a maintenance plan for the newly opened areas – (completed)
  • only selectively remove those trees along the river edge – retaining those which are important for reducing bank erosion (incorporated into licence application)
  • trees works would be carried out by a qualified arboricultural specialist – (incorporated into licence application)

(Note that a vegetation management report was provided previously by Groundwork)

Timescales are dependent on licence approval and seasonality to ensure nesting birds are not disturbed. (This is dependent on the weather but late September as a rough guide).

Q2 the proposal to crown lift trees along The Front has been omitted from the licence application. The need for any work to these roadside trees would be reviewed after the bankside work was completed and would be subject to a further licence application.

In terms of the wider landscaping please bear in mind that we were commissioned to provide a defined piece of work for a limited fee which was restricted to vegetation management to open up historic views.

(Please address any further comments or queries via the email addresses given above).

Thank you