Alderney’s planning committee has asked the States of Guernsey to advise on a Visit Alderney application to remove two trees at the Nunnery because of the controversy the proposal has stirred.
Visit Alderney applied to remove a Bay Tree, a decaying Cherry Tree and a flower bed in a spot adjacent to the remains of the south and west walls of the Roman tower, which lies below ground level at the centre of the 1,600 year old site.
The action, they contend, will protect the archeology from becoming damaged by their roots.
The application was supported by the Alderney Society and the archeologists who uncovered and conserved the ancient remains.
Earlier this year General Services Committee, as Nunnery landlord, endorsed the proposal and sent it to the Building and Development Control Committee for ratification.
But Alderney Bird Observatory, which uses the Nunnery as a site for its bird ringing activities, has submitted vehement objections to it.
They claim that the trees are vital for birds’ recovery and re-orientation after being ringed in the so called ‘sun room’ on the Nunnery ramparts. The two trees are around 15m from the ringing room. They say bird ringing is an important ‘economic enabler’ for Alderney.
Kevin Gentle chaired the packed meeting as the usual leader, Mike Dean, has been suspended. Annie Burgess stepped aside, as she had voted on the issue in GSC and President William Tate joined the group to make it quorate.
Planning Officer Tissie Roberts submitted her long awaited report.
In it she recommended the careful removal of the Cherry Tree – recently damaged, she claimed, by unprofessional pruning. The adjacent raised flower bed should removed up to where the canopy of the Bay Tree began, where the latter should be cut back but otherwise left to grow undisturbed.
‘It would facilitate the excavation of an area sufficient to determine the contents of the substrate along a substantial portion of the west face of the bunker.
‘The works would also ensure that the ABO can continue to function as effectively as possible.’
However in a surprise move Mr Gentle said he was recommending that all emails and submissions connected with the application be forwarded to a planning officer in Guernsey who could then prepare an independent report for the committee to consider.
‘In order for this committee to be completely transparent and to be seen to be properly considering both sets of submissions, it would be appropriate to ask someone not connected in any way.
‘We [should] ask Guernsey to prepare an independent report. Whatever decision is made parties will know that an independent party has given necessary guidance.’
The committee agreed and both parties involved afterwards said they understood the motives behind the transfer even if the move was not universally welcomed.
Norma Paris, ABO board member, said:
‘The Planning Officer’s report is very good and it’s a shame they didn’t go with it. We understand them wanting to involved external planning officers because it’s all caused a bit of a storm. Hopefully Guernsey will see the strengths of our arguments and how much value that we offer to the economy.’
A spokesperson for Visit Alderney said:
‘It is completely understandable the Committee has decided that for a building of this significance it wishes to seek an independent view from the planning office in Guernsey.’
The Nunnery contains the most complete standing Roman small fort in Western Europe and is the most continuously inhabited site in the Channel Islands.
In their planning application Visit Alderney warn there is already a ‘real danger’ that damage has already been done to Roman remains from the trees.
[The trees] have no historic value and their removal will ensure the preservation of the archaeology over which they have been planted. There is a real danger the roots have already begun to degrade the remains of the Roman tower.
Archeologist and former planning professional Dr Isabel Picornell pointed out in her supporting submission that the under the Land Use Plan’s Protection of Registered Heritage Assets and Terrestrial and Intertidal Archaeology policies, the States of Alderney has an over-riding obligation to ‘prioritise the maintenance, preservation, and enhancement of heritage assets and sites of special archaeological value within their designated zones.‘
However, Steven Stansfield, Chair of British and Irish Bird Observatories Council, wrote:
‘I have studied the images sent to me and there are no other trees nor shrubbery in the immediate vicinity of the Nunnery. Once birds have been trapped and ringed they often find shelter in the immediate vicinity of their release until they gather their bearings. Having a close by shelter once released is vital for their safety.’
In her report Ms Roberts said it was necessary to weigh up the dual uses of the Nunnery – as a destination for heritage visitors and for use by the ABO.
She wrote that the ABO wanted: ‘to maintain their popular venue for the ringing and release of birds which was, concurrently with increased visitors to the Roman site, attracting much increased visitor numbers.’
However observers have pointed out that thick tree cover exists 25 metres from the sunroom, just beyond the Nunnery walls. In her report Ms Roberts addressed suggestions that the ABO ringing site could be moved to a spot nearer to those trees and its nets.
‘Two professional representations have stated that the birds should be released close to cover and in relative shelter which is the situation at present.
‘A further representative has stated that, in the absence of such cover, the ringing and release location can be adapted by providing some ‘shelter – in the form of a gazebo, tent or back of a car.
‘At present those are not practicable solutions and it should be assumed that, at this stage, the ‘Sun Room’ will be retained and its current established use will continue.
Dr Jason Monaghan, former Director of Guernsey Museums and the archeologist who has been leading digs at the Nunnery for the past decade, claimed Ms Roberts’ report was heavily weighted towards the ABO use of the Nunnery rather than its legal designation, which is first and foremost as a heritage asset with all the statutory protections that entails.
He has written to the BDCC to outline his concerns.
‘Crucially, none of the points raised by professional archaeological representations are mentioned in the report. All the emphasis is on bird submissions.
‘Under [consideration of] Policy HE3: Terrestrial and Intertidal Archaeology there is no mention of tree roots posing a threat to underlying archaeological layers or historic structures or other structures such as drains – a primary motivation for the application.
‘There is no mention of the fact that the Bay tree is directly adjacent to the south wall of the Roman tower, potentially damaging it, and rooting into the interior of the Tower where there could be Tudor and Roman structures under the surface.’
Within the planning guidelines, he added, any ‘dual use’ of the Nunnery was not relevant.
William Tate said evidence proving what, if any, archeological remains were being damaged by the tree roots, should be sought to back up opinions given in the submissions.