A former Mellor Parish Council chairman has rejected accusations made at a Ribble Valley Council planning meeting about events surrounding a village tree-planting initiative.

The plan, to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee and Green Canopy, followed a decision in December 2023 by borough councillors to overturn a temporary Tree Preservation Order (TPO).

Nick Marsden says a plethora of comments by four objectors to the TPO made at the December Ribble Valley Council planning meeting, alleging wrongdoing on his part, were false and defamatory.

He spoke at the meeting in favour of confirming the TPO. Despite being accused of wrongdoing by the objectors, he focused on the environmental and health benefits of planting trees in neighbourhoods.

However, after the meeting and following local media reports, Mr Marsden contacted the Local Democracy Reporting Service. He wanted to reply to what he said was false testimony by objectors and the allegations levelled against him.

He wanted to publicly refute many of the comments made by the objectors. He said minutes of parish meetings, working parties and email evidence fully support his version of events and undermine the allegations against him.

He showed the Local Democracy Reporting Service printed documents which he said were pertinent evidence supporting his case.

He said: “Allegations of improper conduct by me are not true. Throughout the whole Green Canopy project I conducted myself with the utmost propriety as a councillor in accordance with Mellor Parish Council standing orders, the Nolan Principles and, now, as a resident.

“Allegations of a ‘crusade’ by me are not true. Mellor Parish Council democratically considered, planned and formally resolved to plant the seven trees to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee and Green Canopy in March 2022, subject to receiving a grant from Lancashire Environmental Fund and confirmed the decision in April 2022, after the grant was approved.”

At the December 2023 Ribble Valley planning meeting, the Director of Planning recommended that the planning committee confirm the St Mary’s Gardens TPO without modification.

However, two Mellor residents and two Mellor parish councillors argued that a temporary TPO placed on the group of seven trees on open space at St Mary’s Gardens should not be confirmed.

They stated the trees were planted too close to a children’s play area without proper public support. That the planting had created a long-running dispute and, in effect, scared children away. And some accused Mr Marsden of bad conduct around the project.

Borough Coun Robin Walsh stated that he felt the trees had been ‘weaponised’. After a brief planning committee discussion, Ribble Valley councillors overturned the TPO.

Mr Marsden told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I went to the Ribble Valley Council planning meeting expecting to talk about trees and the TPO. I never expected to be the focus of defamatory comments by other speakers.  I was taken aback. It was a planning meeting. We were supposed to argue the case for or against confirming the TPO, nothing else.”

He rejected accusations or suggestions of bad conduct and that he wasted council and police resources regarding tree damage. He said that the former parish clerk, rightly, contacted the police after the trees had been damaged, not him.

He also dismissed the idea that he viewed the project as some form of personal legacy.

Instead, Mr Marsden said numerous councillors on Mellor Parish Council were actively involved in the Queen’s Jubilee and Green Canopy project from 2021. All decisions were taken democratically at parish council meetings and recorded in the minutes.

He also claimed damage to trees and bulbs appeared to be deliberate – not accidentally caused by children’s play, as some suggested at the December planning meeting. He said photos illustrate the extent of the damage to two young trees and showed that most of the bulbs had been pulled from the ground.

Mr Marsden also queried the idea that a few neighbours’ motives or concerns were to promote the grassed area as simply a place for children to play. Until recently a ‘No Ball Games’ sign was in place, suggesting ball games annoyed neighbours.

He also said that he was told ‘in no uncertain terms’ on the day the trees were planted, that they would be damaged. He also stated that he was accosted by some residents outside the village store and told to remove the trees. He and other parish councillors were subject to intimidating letters and Facebook posts, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Contrary to the ‘kill-joy’ ideas, Mr Marsden says Mellor Parish Council had, in fact, spent over £40,000 upgrading the children’s play area in 2018 and despite the tree planting, plenty of space remained for children to enjoy the

grassed area. Studies show that children benefit enormously from being around trees, they do not conflict, he believes.

Overall, Mr Marsden said he does not understand why personal allegations were made or what motives some people have in opposing the tree project.

At Mellor Parish Council’s recent February meeting, a resident claimed comments about Mr Marsden in December were ‘derisory and objectionable and reflected poorly on the individuals who made them.’ Another member of the public agreed.

On January 3 , residents noticed that the seven saplings were being dug up, without a resolution of the parish council. They have been taken to a nursery owned by brewing firm Daniel Thwaites, apparently pending a decision on their future.

Some people maintain that Elma Yerburgh and the Thwaites family bequeathed the land to the children of Mellor.

However, records clearly show that, in August 1946, the land was conveyed between Woodfold Estates and the former Rural District Council of Blackburn. Later, in 1975, the land was sold to Mellor Parish Council by Ribble Valley Borough Council for £10.

The deeds contain a covenant requiring the land to be maintained as an open space. By definition, an open space has many uses, and is not restricted to use solely by children.

Mr Marsden said. “The open space is held in trust by the parish council for all residents to enjoy.”In November 2021 the parish council wrote to all neighbouring residents. In the letter were the words that ‘it is hoped the area could be used for the benefit of everyone in the community.’”