Plans to build 53 ‘much needed’ sheltered homes in Wirral were rejected on Tuesday night over concerns that trees would be lost in the development.
The net loss of 13 trees was considered sufficient to turn down the application despite their contribution to adult social care in the borough.
Councillors voted by seven votes to four in favour of refusing the plan, with four Conservatives, two Lib Dems and one Green councillor outvoting four Labour councillors.
NHS Property Services and Anwyl Partnerships were behind the plans for an independent living scheme on Greenheys Road in Liscard.
A visual impression of how the accommodation would have looked
The proposals would then have seen Magenta Living take over the running of the site once it was up and running.
Speaking for the agent of the joint applicants NHS Property Services and Anywl Partnerships, Justin Cove said sheltered homes schemes such as this one can change lives.
He shared a quote from a resident at an extra care facility run by Magenta Living, which was completed in 2017.
The resident said the facility had improved their life tremendously, staff were always there to help them and the companionship they felt was brilliant.
Mr Cove also said the 53 sheltered homes would help Wirral meet its target to build 12,000 homes by 2035.
He said the scheme would have seen a vacant brownfield site brought back into use and helped protect the green belt.
Labour councillor Sarah Spoor, who represents Liscard, disagreed and said there were a number of problems with the plan.
They included the loss of view for neighbours owing to the three storey height of the building, noise pollution linked with the plans and an increased demand for parking in an area which already has problems with capacity.
Cllr Spoor also objected to the cutting down of 38 trees as part of these plans.
New trees would still have been planted under the proposals but there would still have been a net loss of 13 trees.
She said that the trees to be cut down formed part of an important habitat for birds, hedgehogs and other animals and that an online petition secured 139 signatures against cutting them down.
Both Mr Cove and the Wirral Council planning officer present at the meeting said many of the trees to be cut down were of low quality and that the new trees would be of a better standard.
Cllr Spoor said the tree assessment done by the council did not describe the environmental impact of trees to the ecosystem, nor the contribution they make to reducing carbon dioxide emissions or improving air quality.
Cllr Spoor said developers should strive to achieve a “biodiversity net gain” rather than reducing the number of trees.
Other members of the committee, including Green Party councillor Steve Hayes, agreed and warned that the effect of the loss on the tree canopy was more important than the number of trees cut down.
The tree canopy refers to the amount of space a tree or group of trees take up.
Cllr Hayes said he feared cutting down a number of old trees and replacing them with new ones would mean a significant loss in tree coverage.
Cllr Ian Lewis, leader of the Tory group in Wirral Council, said he was disappointed that the plan will see Wirral lose 13 trees at the same time that the government has given several millions of pounds to councils to build trees in urban areas.
He also said that it seemed perverse to plant new trees while removing old ones at the same time.
Cllr Lewis also said a ‘social landlord’ ought to make sure trees were not lost on this site.
However, Labour councillor Stuart Whittingham supported the plans on the basis that extra care facilities are “much needed” in Wirral.
To deal with the concerns expressed by other councillors, he asked council officers if they could put together an agreement for the developer to plant more trees elsewhere in the borough to make up for the net loss of 13 trees.
However, other councillors did not support his proposal and the plan was rejected by seven votes to four.