It is exactly six months since my last blog entry and for most of that time not much has been happening. I described how my application to the Council for approval to go ahead with creating a vehicle access track was refused on the grounds that “Insufficient information has been submitted to show that the proposed access would be used with ongoing forestry works at the site”. I knew I would have to deal with the issue at some point but I felt defeated and couldn’t summon the necessary enthusiasm, so I busied myself with other things and neglected the wood for most of the summer (though I did go over with a brush cutter a couple of times to cut back the verge). At the beginning of July I went for a walk and spotted the missing picnic table, which had been moved about fifty metres to the corner of the wood and thrown down a steep bank. Fortunately it was undamaged so I retrieved it and put it back in its proper place. To stop it going missing again I nailed the legs to four posts driven into the ground, which clearly worked because it was still there as of last week.
Back to the planning issue. I didn’t want to pay to apply again – as a matter of principle more than anything. The only other option seemed to be to appeal to the Secretary of State which I would have to do within six months of the refusal, in other words by December 8th. In either case it seemed I would need to be prepared to demonstrate that I really intended to do forestry work on the site and that would mean producing some sort of management plan. It was not until late September that I phoned the Forestry Commission and got in touch with the local Woodland Officer Emma Brearley who arranged to meet me at the wood in early October to discuss management options. Her main recommendation was to do some long overdue thinning and she suggested I remove about a third of the trees, including all of the sycamore. When she got back to her office she sent me an application for the necessary felling license. During the second week of November I selected and marked trees to be felled, keeping a tally broken down by species and trunk diameter from which I was able to estimate timber volume.
I wrote a basic management plan and on November 15th delivered it with a letter to East Herts Council asking them to reconsider my application. I told them I wasn’t happy with the pre-application advice I had received and that if the issue wasn’t resolved to my satisfaction I had been advised to appeal to the Secretary of State. On the same day I posted my felling license application.
On November 29th I got a letter from Michael Chalk in which he said that he was not able to reopen the application as it had already been determined but that I could resubmit it within twelve months of the date of the decision, that no fee would be charged, and that the management plan provided sufficient information to show that forestry is intended at the site, though he also said that my application would be helped if I could provide correspondence from the other bodies referred to in the management plan (RPA, Forestry Commission etc). So it was back to the Planning Portal where I discovered I could just go to “My Applications” and copy the application, which retains all the details and supporting documents but allows it to be resubmitted under a new reference number. I made a few changes on the form and added four additional supporting documents – my management plan, the felling licence (which I had just received), my Rural Land Register Map (which I had received way back in May), and an email from the Woodland Officer saying that I would need an access track for extracting timber cut under the felling license. I submitted the new application on December 6th and the following day I got an email saying it had been transferred to East Herts Council. On December 10th I got a phone call from the fees department at East Herts to tell me that the application could not proceed until I had paid the fee! Well of course I told the woman that I had it in writing from the planning officer that no fee would be charged and she agreed to talk to him and get back to me. The following day I got a call from someone higher up saying that they had made a mistake in telling me that there would be no fee but I dug my heels in and he agreed to process the application without me having to pay. On December 15th I got an official letter saying that if the application had not been decided by January 3rd I could go ahead but I hoped I wouldn’t be kept in suspense over Christmas and on December 21st I received a decision – “PRIOR APPROVAL IS NOT REQUIRED”. I believe that means I can go ahead! It has been an edifying if frustrating experience and of course I would do things differently in future, but I still think the pre-planning advice I got was poor value for money.