An ecological consultant has helped Taylor Wimpey sign off over 40 protected trees for the chop

Hawthorn tree on a grassy slope.
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This article was updated at 11.25am on Monday 11 September to reflect an error. It previously said that Middlemarch has IEMA membership, when it’s actually some of Middlemarch’s employees that hold IEMA membership. 

As housing developers watch their stocks rise due to plans to scrap river pollution rules, one community in Southend-on-Sea are finding out first hand how these profiteering companies run roughshod over nature. Moreover, the behaviour of major housing developer Taylor Wimpey’s ecological consultant has raised serious questions about the tight relationship between environmental experts and those destroying the natural world.

On a beloved patch of local greenspace in Shoeburyness, Southend-on-Sea, over 40 protected trees line a grassy embankment. Locals have described how, on snowy days in winter, children will go sledding down the bank. In the summer, they’ll play beneath the “dappled and shady” canopy, awash with wildflowers.

However, they won’t be around for much longer. In July, the local council granted mega-developer Taylor Wimpey planning permission to level the bank, and the trees along with it. In their place, Wimpey will build a block of flats as part of a new housing development.

This is part one in a three-part series on Taylor Wimpey’s housing project in Southend-on-Sea. This section will explore the actors involved in the destruction of a valued community green space. Part two will delve into Taylor Wimpey’s chequered environmental record. Then, in part three, the Canary will look into the connection between Wimpey and a leading UK conservation charity.

Independent consultants?

41 protected mature hawthorn and maple trees have become the focal point of a determined campaign against the developer. Taylor Wimpey will also tear down three further protected trees, alongside an additional 18 trees without protections.

When Wimpey first announced its plans for the site, residents launched efforts to secure protection for the trees and green space. Locals applied for Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) for the embankment boughs. TPOs would afford the trees extra consideration in the decision over the development, though notably their preservation would still not be a given.

Read on...

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In July 2022, the council confirmed the TPO. Of course, Taylor Wimpey disputed the designation. Its ecological consultant – Coventry-based Middlemarch Environmental – argued that one set of trees were in fact, a hedgerow. As a hedgerow, these trees would not qualify for a TPO.

However, the council’s arboricultural officer begged to differ. It refuted the ecological consultant’s assessment, concluding that:

This line of trees has individual structure and they meet or exceed the size requirements which would be covered by conservation area protection

In spite of the TPO, Middlemarch categorised the trees on the embankment as a hedgerow in its final impact assessment.

Given these actions, it’s not surprising that local residents have called into question the integrity of Wimpey’s ‘independent’ consultants. Tim Fransen has spearheaded the campaign against the development. He suggested to the Canary that the advice from the ecological consultant has been “biased and flawed”.

Greenlighting environmental destruction

Middlemarch consultancy claims to provide “innovative solutions” that:

help businesses to deliver high quality outcomes that protect nature and enhance biodiversity

Naturally then, it boasts a list of morally dubious and environmentally destructive clientele. For instance, it has provided services to prolific workers’ rights violator Balfour Beatty. Meanwhile, the firm formerly provided “ecological solutions” to disgraced and collapsed government outsourcing corporation Carillion.

Better yet, Middlemarch has – without a seeming shred of self-awareness – emblazoned its landing page with water company Severn Trent’s logo. It promotes the environmental offender under the bombastic slogan “standing up for nature”. It might almost be funny if the ecocidal corporation wasn’t pumping literal shit tonnes of raw sewage into UK waterways and laying waste to fragile river ecosystems.

Moreover, in 2004, Middlemarch developed a ‘Biodiversity Benchmark’ alongside an auspicious list of climate and environment-wrecking companies. These included Severn Trent, Heathrow, and British Airways. The benchmark’s webpage proclaims that:

Landowning businesses can be a positive force for nature’s recovery and we want to recognise and celebrate those businesses which have achieved excellence.

So landowning companies like Heathrow can plan environmentally ruinous runways and remain on the list of “businesses which have achieved excellence” for wildlife. Seems legit.

Incidentally, Middlemarch employees are also members of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA). Purporting to be a global sustainability membership body for businesses, the Canary previously dubbed the company:

a glorified public relations firm, badged with not-for-profit status and peddling in corporate greenwashing.

Middlemarch appears to have taken a leaf from IEMA’s greenwashing playbook.

Partnering in corporate ecocide

None of this is even to mention that the consultancy has form for assisting housing developers circumvent those pesky regulatory barriers. When another local authority rejected major housing developer Danescroft’s plan to build 180 houses, Middlemarch swooped in to save the bottom line.

It boasted about its success in a case study blog:

When developers appealed against a refused development near Eastbourne, East Sussex, Middlemarch helped them demonstrate that three internationally-important habitats would be unaffected by the proposal.

Only, government advisor Natural England took issue with Middlemarch’s assessment, concluding that:

we cannot agree with the approach taken to the Shadow Habitats Assessment, nor the conclusions reached therein

In particular, it pointed out a number of significant flaws in the consultant’s screening of the impacts on nearby protected sites. Disagreeing with and ignoring the findings of government environmental experts: sound familiar?

The firm appears to make a habit of aiding and abetting and environmentally destructive companies in ransacking nature for their profiteering business activities – the beloved green space and protected trees in Shoeburyness are simply the latest victim.

In part two, the Canary will dig into housing developer Taylor Wimpey’s record of ecological harm. 

Feature image via Stephen Burton/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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