Shoebury Residents’ Association Alliance

14 August 2023

Open Letter

Taylor Wimpey Directors and Shareholders

Save our Trees, Embankment and Wildlife

Dear Ishaq Kayani, Robert Noel, Board of Directors and Shareholders, 

We are writing regarding the building plans for the Cantel site on Campfield Road, Shoeburyness, in Essex. Taylor Wimpey recently purchased this large area, drafted plans for 70 dwellings, and obtained planning permission from Southend City Council.

The site was government-owned for years, firstly the Ministry of Defence and later the Civil Service, before being sold to Cantel and then Taylor Wimpey. Due to its prior use, the site has never been used for residential housing and features a green boundary, including mature trees; the area is teeming with wildlife.

The north-east of the site is tipped by an area of green space known locally as Campfield Green. Campfield Green has always been open and used by the public; at the rear of that space is the 'big hill' (bund/embankment), and beyond that is the Garrison. Forty-one TPO-protected mature hawthorn and maple trees atop the embankment, which for decades has been used by local children for sledging in snowy winters and as a place to play during the summer holidays. At the lower level, the embankment is surrounded by several large trees and their broad, leafy canopy. On a sunny summer's day, the ground below the leaves is dappled and shady, the grass full of wildflowers. The embankment and trees provide a feeding ground for four species of bat, act as a habitat for hedgehogs, other wildlife and pollinating insects, and help to protect the surrounding area from flooding. It is an essential area of greenery treasured by residents.

In May 2022, during the initial consultation period, Taylor Wimpey hosted a public exhibition. We had hoped that this event would provide an opportunity for meaningful resident involvement in the design and planning process. Regrettably, this expectation wasn't met. Despite calls to explore relocating the block of flats to preserve the trees and embankment, these requests were disregarded. To our disappointment, residents also reported that a Taylor Wimpey representative, when questioned about the fate of the embankment, misleadingly stated it would be "reshaped." These instances are documented in residents' feedback, which we've reviewed.

Subsequently, residents were desperate to protect the trees and embankment once Taylor Wimpey's plan for the area became apparent. Despite Taylor Wimpey's challenge at the time, informed by Southend City Council's Tree Officers' guidance and resident petition last autumn, the council placed 44 trees under a tree preservation order, including those on the embankment. Later one resident met with your staff to discuss how the trees and embankment could be saved whilst still allowing for the dwellings to be built. The relocation of the block of flats plan he suggested meant your company would have lost four houses (see alternative location 2 below).

At the Development Control Committee meeting in July, and reiterated in Taylor Wimpey's update delivered to residents in August, Taylor Wimpey staff said of the resident's plan that "this proposal has not been subject to any technical or design due diligence in regard to aspects such as road and parking standards, and there are a number of technical reasons why these proposals are not deliverable." This vague statement is the sole communication we have received concerning the alternative plan. The only other reason provided was that reducing the housing density by four properties would affect profits and, therefore, undeliverable. This position was conveyed to a resident during a meeting to discuss the alternative proposal for the site.

Please note that we fully understand this alternative plan is not a full planning proposal but rather a plea for Taylor Wimpey to consider relocating the block of flats. However, we have not seen any evidence of this consideration throughout the planning process, and the housing layout has essentially remained unchanged.

Additionally, feedback submitted during the public exhibition highlighted another alternative location for the block of flats (see 1 below) northwest of the site, which was again disregarded without rationale. Another very feasible location (see 3 below) would be southwest of the site, where the intended 'wildlife area' is proposed. All three locations would save the established trees, embankment, and wildlife habitat.

Three alternative locations for block of flats.

Unfortunately, your staff persisted with the original plan throughout, gained planning permission, and now the majority of mature trees on the site and, thereby, the life that depends on them, are due for destruction.

We are writing to ask you, as Taylor Wimpey Directors and Shareholders, to please save the trees and embankment and all the life that thrives because of it, both human and wildlife.

We understand that Taylor Wimpey is a reputable and trustworthy building company. It seems unlikely to us that the Directors and Shareholders of such a company would choose to be responsible for the unwarranted destruction of mature trees, with implications for climate change and biodiversity loss (the UK is in the bottom 10% globally for biodiversity). We bring the matter to your attention confident this is the case.

Your staff will broadly offer two reasons for the embankment's destruction. The first will be that the source of the sites groundwater cyanide contamination could possibly be located beneath the embankment. However, the embankment shows no detectable signs of contamination which is corroborated in GB Card & Partners' report, "A soil investigation undertaken on the bund itself in the north-east of the site in September 2022 indicated that the bund is unlikely to be the source of cyanide contamination, as cyanide in all tested samples was below the laboratory limit of detection." Competent alternative research submitted during the public consultation showed there are more likely areas to be the source that need to be investigated and are easily accessible for a cable percussive rig. We have had no response from your staff as to why these areas have not been explored. Additionally, there is no visible evidence of any investigations using a cable percussive rig in the publicly accessible Campfield Green area northeast of the embankment, where the more probable contamination source might be located.

The second reason they will give you is that the embankment, and therefore the trees atop, needs to be destroyed to accommodate the block of flats that are part of the building plan. Again, as noted above, two alternative locations were put forward to explore that would mean the embankment and trees can be saved, but your staff did not take these up. Another third viable location could be southwest of the site, where the intended 'wildlife area' is proposed.

We of course, understand that Taylor Wimpey intends to plant more trees than are destroyed. Unfortunately, this is little guarantee of loss mitigation. Research shows that new trees do not necessarily recover the benefits of mature, felled trees. For example, it will take any new trees approximately 25-30 years to recover the canopy cover provided by the existing trees on the Cantel site - that is, assuming the new trees even survive to maturity. Also, research now shows that young trees (again, assuming survival) may never attain the carbon capture capacity of mature trees; a third example - that tree uptake of pollutants is greatest at their canopy edge, is very significant given the location of the site close to a school. The proposed new trees cannot provide particulate capture near the level of the current trees. We note that Taylor Wimpey does not keep data that monitors new tree survival rates across its development sites, so it is unable to reassure or counter the concern about mature tree loss mitigation.

The loss of these trees is significant: the felling of them will expose residents, particularly children whose lungs are still growing, to pollutants, which will increase in the area with the building of the new dwellings and the concomitant rise in road traffic; residents with lung conditions will have less protection; wildlife will die; pollinating insects (crucial globally for food security) will lose habitat; residents will lose green space important for wellbeing and mental health. In short, the loss of these trees will have a profound effect on many levels, and new tree planting can't address these concerns in any meaningful way.

Our trees could be saved. It requires minimal effort on the part of your staff, and although your company, like others, has seen a reduced profit margin this year, the cost of adjusting the building plan will be vanishingly small for a company the size of Taylor Wimpey. Reconsidering the alternative and adjusting the plan will affirm confidence that Taylor Wimpey is a responsible corporate citizen valuing people, trees and wildlife before profit, thus yielding more valuable results in the long term.

We, as residents, are not saying 'no' to houses, simply 'yes' to mature trees and associated benefits. We would be happy to host any visits to the area you might find helpful so that you, as Directors and Shareholders, can see the beautiful trees and surrounding area due to be destroyed as a result of Taylor Wimpey's building in Shoeburyness.

We very much hope you agree and will reconsider the plans for the Cantel site with the aim of saving the trees, the life that depends on them, and a precious, natural habitat treasured by residents.

Yours sincerely,

East Beach Residents’ Association

East Beach Park Residents Association

Shoebury Garrison Residents Association

Shoeburyness Residents’ Association

Thorpe Bay Residents Association

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