Row erupts after dozens of trees aligning footpath chopped down
- Credit: Robert Wingfield/Archant
A row has erupted in a Norfolk town after dozens of trees aligning a popular footpath were suddenly cut down.
The cluster of trees was pulled down from a section of old railway track bed behind the Longfields housing estate in Swaffham.
But landowner Tony Mallon, a local farmer, had obtained the necessary licence from the Forestry Commission before enlisting contractors at his own expense to carry out the work.
It is claimed by Mr Mallon's son, William Mallon, that overhanging trees had been a source of significant concern for homeowners living at Longfields.
The move has, however, provoked a furious reaction from some residents and users of the path.
While it is not a public right of way, attempts have been made by Swaffham Town (STC) to register the land as a recognised footpath - which it has also done with around a dozen other parts of the old railway.
But William Mallon explained: "There are a number of residents who have been concerned about the trees overhanging their properties for a long time.
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"These houses would have eventually had trees coming down on top of them.
"A lot of the trees we removed had ash dieback in them and would have died anyway. In a few years' time, the others will naturally coppice and grow up again.
"People seem to think we are creating a mass exodus of forestry devastation, when all we are trying to do is protect the houses - and we have had several conversations with the residents.
"As far as I am concerned, we went through all the right channels. We applied for the felling licence, it was approved and the contractors carried out the work on our behalf. It is as cut and dry as that."
Among those calling into the question the felling is Robert Wingfield, an author who lives in Spinners Lane.
He believes it represents "wanton destruction" - and that the outcome was disproportionate to the initial problem.
"I really don't understand what the motivation is," said Mr Wingfield.
"A lot of effort has been made to destroy this woodland at the landowner's own cost when, really, all they had to do was cut back some of the trees on the Longfields side of the path. He could have just chopped them.
"There are two issues here: one is the denial of a footpath for the public to use, and the second is the wanton destruction of the woodland.
"For me, it is way over the top. It is far more than just chopping down a few trees."
Mr Mallon claimed that those criticising the felling did not understand the ecological benefits, and that the project would, by his assertion, have a positive impact in the long-term.
"We are actually trying to preserve the environment, as opposed to destroying it," he added.
The emerging controversy has also raised questions over the process which resulted in a felling licence being granted.
The matter was discussed earlier this week by STC's assets and open spaces committee, which asked why the council had not been consulted over the plans.
It drafted a letter which has since been sent to the Forestry Commission, condemning the regulator from omitting STC from the process.
The letter reads: "Due to the high number of enquiries and complaints from our residents, Swaffham Town Council wishes to raise a complaint about the circumstances of the felling licence.
"We note that the licence application is available online in a redacted form and that comments may be made for a period of 28 days. But, as the town council was unaware the application had been made, we were unable to comment.
"Had we been informed in the same way that we are with hedge removal applications, we feel much of the complaint could have been dealt with."
There is, however, no regulatory or legal requirement for the Forestry Commission to consult town councils about felling licence applications.
STC also said adjoining neighbours had not been informed of the impending action in sufficient time.
But Mr Mallon maintained that "several conversations" took place with adjacent residents prior to the felling getting under way.
The Forestry Commission said it had notified Breckland Council of the felling licence application, adding that the proposal had met the UK Forestry Standard.