|Steep Fields Messages|
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
PEOPLE who took part in illegal tree felling during a violent confrontation in Hebden Bridge may be prosecuted, a planning chief said yesterday.
Jim Metcalfe, of Calderdale Council, was speaking in the aftermath of 'Chainsaw Tuesday' last week, when dozens of local residents were involved in angry scenes with contractors and security staff, which led to police being called.
The protesters were incensed to find workmen attempting to cut down more than 40 trees at a former mill pond near Windsor View. They say the area is an important wildlife habitat.
Todmorden property developer Green Tops wants to build 10 environmentally-friendly ecohouses in the area but so far. has failed to submit a formal planning application.
Mr Metcalfe said: "We do believe that a number of trees have been felled without appropriate consent and we are in discussions with council solicitors with regard to pursuing prosecutions.
"I believe we will be interviewing those involved and we are in the process of taking witness statements from local residents."
He added that earlier this year, residents contacted the council requesting tree preservation orders be granted - a proposal that was accepted after being unsuccessfully challenged by the owner, whose proposals include the removal of trees.
The council's actions were applauded by Calder Valley MP Chris McCafferty, who said: "I have been approached by a number of residents who were clearly very unhappy about what happened.
"It certainly caused a great deal of distress and that should never have happened. A lot of my constituents were extremely unhappy about people turning up with chainsaws on the site.
"I do hope the council takes action over illegal felling of trees.
"If people are not prosecuted when they do something like this it gives more leave for people to behave in what was a very highhanded manner.
"I think the developers have shot themselves in the foot over this.
"They need the support of local people - people they have caused a huge amount of distress and anger."
And she called for a public meeting between developers, the local authority and residents to discuss the issues.
Chris Ratcilife, a protester who has lived in Hebden Bridge for more than 30 years, said a demonstration would be held at 1pm on Saturday at St George's Square, Hebden Bridge, to make clear the level of opposition to the proposals.
But Mark Clyndes, agent for Green Tops, a green property developer, said he was disappointed at the protests which, he said, were: "an extreme form of Nimbyism. It was unfortunate but not particularly unexpected."
He said a planning application would be presented to the council's planning department early next week, adding that he would be surprised if any prosecutions actually resulted, as previous threats had come to nothing.