A HOUSING development in the grounds of a historic hall has been approved despite concerns over the loss of numerous mature and protected trees.

Darlington Borough Council’s planning committee agreed that the former site of the Department of Education offices at Mowden Hall off Staindrop Road was an ideal location to build 18 three-bedroom and 12 four-bedroom homes.

However, residents and members expressed concern about the proposed loss of 85 trees and pressed developers to do everything in their power to retain as many as possible.

A spokesman for developers Galliford Try Partnership North said the loss of some of the trees could not be avoided due to their large root networks, but the proposal featured a high quality landscaping scheme including the planting of a number of trees and 1,800 shrubs on the site.

He said: “The site offers a fantastic historic setting with extensive and dense landscaped grounds. Conversely, this has also presented itself with some challenges to overcome.”

The meeting heard even before the planning application had been submitted protected trees had “evaporated” from the Government-owned site without councillors knowledge, although officers said they had given consent for those trees to be felled.

Members were told it would be difficult to develop the site without the loss of some trees.

College ward councillor Ian Galletly said it had become plain there was “tremendous public interest and concern over the loss of mature trees”.

Referring to the public outcry over the loss of 200 trees for a development at Blackwell, he said: “It is not just recent history that makes people aware of the value of the trees in this situation.

“We are taking down these major, mature, beautiful English hardwood trees.. it takes 50 years to grow a mature lime tree. There will be loss to the natural environment for a decade or two. We are saying it is worth developing high quality housing, as it will increase [the council’s] income which could be spent on good causes.”

Cllr Galletly said a few of the trees appeared to being axed “purely for profit” and called for the retention of trees that were being felled due to aesthetic issues.

He added: “What we have to do as an authority is ensure people see that the process is fair. If someone were to write in and say ‘look at this huge tree in my garden, it has a tree preservation order on it, can I just sort it out?’, there would be all hell on.”

The meeting heard the developers would be bound with a condition that all trees being retained on site would protected throughout the construction phase and that the council would consider imposing tree preservation orders on all trees on the site at a later date.