Redcar and Cleveland’s regulatory committee decided to defer decision on a planning application discussed on Thursday 2 February, despite council officers recommending approval. The application, from the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), is for a park and ride facility at the former SSI, now Teesworks site to accommodate the 1,294 cars of the future Teesside Freeport’s expected 20,000 workers.
The project is not only a car park. It includes an access road, a junction at the A1085, related offices, charging points, bus stops, and parking spaces for hundreds of cycles, motorbikes and minibuses.
Serious environmental concerns
The councillors raised concerns about the loss of plants and wildlife. The site is next to the Coatham Marsh Nature Reserve and would remove 5% of a ‘green wedge’ – a buffer zone between developments to provide space for recreation and wildlife. A green wedge has no protection under law. While the reserve has held the lease for the last 40 years, the owners are now Teesworks Ltd, established by STDC, which also owns the planned car park site.
The planning officer’s report states that there will be a loss of habitat for breeding birds including some ‘red listed’ and ‘amber listed’ birds of conservation concern. Other wildlife affected include the brown hare, harvest mouse, common toad and hedgehog. The butterflies and moths threatened include the dingy skipper, grayling butterfly, wall butterfly, small heath butterfly and cinnabar moth. The site also encroaches on land vital to creatures not officially protected, with the erosion of territory needed for survival and breeding.
Jeremy Garside, chief executive of Tees Valley Wildlife Trust which runs the reserve, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service:
“Every development has an impact. We used to get brown hare and have foxes and things like that – nothing that is particularly rare or protected – but is constantly losing habitat.”
At the meeting Cllr Anne Watts called the project: “vandalism as far as wildlife is concerned”.
The planning decision was deferred due to concerns about environmental impact.
Damage already done – before planning permission
But the damage has already been done. Much of the 35-acre site was already cleared last year in preparation for the project – that has yet to be approved.
Cllr Alec Brown, who represents nearby Dormanstown, sent North East Bylines current photographs of the site, which you can see here. It is devoid of vegetation.
Cllr Brown told us:
“Anyone from this area will know there’s been at least five generations of a large deer family on this greenbelt land, amongst many other species. They are gone forever now.
“I am in total shock at the scale at which the greenbelt land has been destroyed. This is before any planning permission has been given.
“Their plans are to encroach by at least 5% on to Coatham Marsh Green wedge land. These pictures are what Teesworks refers to as preparing for planning permission. You’ve just destroyed decades of established ecosystems, in case you get planning permission. What happens if they don’t? Destroyed for no reason.”
Local Conservative MP Simon Clarke reacted angrily to Cllr Brown’s similar post on Facebook with:
“The works in question aren’t ‘preparing for planning permission’ the work is underway. Please check before spreading inaccurate stories.”
Clarke provided a link to a planning application already granted: Planning Application R/2022/0494/FFM, titled ‘Engineering operations associated with the removal of mounds, installation of haul road, temporary bridge and associated works’. It was approved by a council officer using ‘delegated powers’ – with no councillor decision required.
So the approval was for preparation for the Park and Ride project before it had gained planning permission.
Cllr Brown replied to Clarke,
“I have just spoken with council officers who said Teesworks were told it was OK to remove a few trees. Not turn it into the moon. Don’t you think it would have been wise to wait until the planning permission had been passed by the council before displacing all the wildlife?”
An alarming breach of wildlife protection law
We studied the documents supporting both planning applications and found an alarming breach of wildlife protection law.
Advice on the application forms warns that work to remove trees, scrub, marsh and grassland that could support breeding birds should be undertaken outside the nesting season (March to August inclusive). That warning is repeated in the two ecological impact assessments of May and September 2022 and the arboricultural survey of September last year.
According to the planning application form, land clearance during nesting season can only be allowed if the habitat is “first checked by a suitably qualified ecologist”, who confirms in writing that no nesting birds are present. The ecological impact assessments confirm that there was no audit of nesting birds. The form warns that, “This is a legal requirement and the nesting birds requirement should be in any planning approval as a condition or an Informative”.
The Ecosurv Ltd tree survey noted that work to clear the ground was ongoing during their site visit of 19 August 2022 – which was in the bird-breeding season. The survey counted over 2,000 trees. Only a few of these were regarded as being of low quality. Nearly all the tree species were described as nested. Among the breeding birds losing their habitat are the red-listed dunnock and willow warbler, plus whitethroat, grasshopper warbler, skylark, song thrush, blackcap, chiffchaff, blackbird and wren. Non-breeding species include redwing and fieldfare.
The second ecological impact assessment carried no assessment of the cleared ground beyond logging it as “bare earth” and marking it on the map.
The ecological impact assessments were both carried out by INCA (Industry Nature Conservation Association), a non-profit company that operates on a limited membership basis.
On its website INCA claims to have “over 50 members including most of the major chemical, waste, and power generation businesses in the Tees Valley”. The subscribers (or donors) include Teesworks Ltd, but no mention is made in the INCA assessments of the conflict of interest.
INCA concludes in its assessments that future work on the Teesworks site will compensate for the species and habitat loss. This comprises a CEMP (construction environmental management plan) and SuDS (sustainable drainage system), neither of which will restore the lost trees and wildlife.
There are questions whether a car park of this scale is necessary. Cllr Ceri Cawley suggested at the committee meeting that upgrading the existing Steel Gate car park next door would be sufficient.
The argument for the park and ride hangs on the prediction that the Teesworks and Freeport initiatives, will attract 20,000 jobs, a number that has become set in stone. The original claim by Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen and his Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) was that the future Teesside freeport will create 18,000 skilled, good quality and well-paid jobs over five years.
In response to our enquiry, the TVCA press office sent us the source of the jobs prediction: “A proposal for a national economic free trade policy”. Commissioned by Mayor Houchen, it promoted the Tees Valley as a national pilot free trade zone (or freeport). The report projected a likely 16,000, not 18,000, new jobs, depending on investment, but the authors warned that “accurately forecasting investment is almost impossible”.
The report presented two free trade zone case studies: Dubai’s Jebel Ali free zone and Singapore’s Jurong Island. Both rely on very low-cost migrant labour. At Jurong, workers live 20 to a room with scant ventilation. At Jebel Ali, migrants are denied government benefits or protection.
The proposal noted the advantage of Tees Valley’s “area of relatively low income and high unemployment”.
The freeport bid begs two questions: if the original predicted maximum employment is 20% less than what is currently claimed, should the new car park be 80%of the planned scale? And secondly, if the freeport is to pay breadline wages, how will the workers afford cars?
The STDC could do the decent thing: reduce the scale of their plan, and add some acreage to the green wedge and reserve. They could replant the habitats they have obliterated and fund more reserve wardens to re-populate and care for the deer. Plenty of public bodies fund deer wardens and specialist vets for the creatures on their land: supplementing food and providing medical help. An example is the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey.
But although the planning application was lodged by the public STDC, Teesworks Ltd which they created is no longer owned by the taxpayer. 90% of that firm which owns the 2,400 acre Teesworks site with its valuable scrap assets, has been gifted to companies controlled by developers Chris Musgrave, Martin Corney and Ian Waller.
Preservation of the environment and adherence to wildlife laws do not seem to square with the Teesworks Ltd business model.
The final decision on the project plan will be at the deferment meeting on 15 March. Permission for Cllr Brown to speak at the meeting has been withdrawn “after officer intervention”.
We have approached TVCA for comment.
Redcar’s Regulatory Committee today (2 March) gave the go ahead for the entire Park and Ride project, giving a green light to destroying the rest of the land.
“I’m totally gutted, ” posted Labour Cllr Alec Brown on Facebook. “Five councillors just decided that the marshes can be encroached upon. I talked against on so many points.
“Totally gutted that 3 Independents, 1 Lib Dem, 2 Conservative Councillors picked politics over the clear fact the park and ride could still happen without destroying more of the marshes.”