Council orders tree house to be torn down

A father-of-two from Somerset will be forced to tear down his daughters’ tree house after the district council won an appeal against him.

Tim Lyddon lives in the coastal town of Minehead with his wife Jayne and their two daughters Jody and Maisie.

Mr Lyddon began constructing the tree-house a short distance from their home in late-2019, to provide his daughters with a place to play and learn about nature.

But Somerset West and Taunton Council has now ordered him to tear it down because it breaches planning law – a decision which has left Mr Lyddon “disappointed” and “perplexed”.

The tree house – christened The Birds Nest – lies up a steep track off Combeland Road, between a small orchard and Penny Hill Wood.

The two-storey structure, constructed around an oak tree, is accessed by a “gangway bridge” and has enough space for two or three children to sleep in.

Sign above the entrance to the tree house
Sign above the entrance to the tree house
(Image: Daniel Mumby)

The ground floor includes a large observation hatch where people can see across the whole of Minehead, including the Butlins holiday camp and the nearby rugby club.

The council served Mr Lyddon with an enforcement notice in January, claiming that the tree-house amounted to building in open countryside – something which has traditionally been discouraged to protect the natural landscape and discourage urban sprawl.

Mr Lyddon lodged a formal appeal against the council, with planning inspector Justina Moss visited the site on July 23 and published her report on October 15.

She agreed with the council that the tree-house or “wildlife observation hide” was outside of the areas identified in the Local Plan for future housing growth in Minehead.

She described the tree-house as “a considerable structure over two floors”, with the materials used being “somewhat incongruous within its immediate setting.”

She added: “The benefits of any camouflage are likely to be reduced during the autumn and winter months, when it is likely that the structure, being at the edge of the tree line, would be more visible from the site entrance as well as from viewpoints within the adjoining residential area.

“I have no doubt that the development contributes towards the education and
well-being of Mr Lyddon’s children and their friends.

“However, as these are the only users of the development, the weight attributed to this benefit is limited… and it cannot reasonably be regarded as reaching the wider community.”

Seating area and steps on the ground floor of the tree house
Seating area and steps on the ground floor of the tree house
(Image: Daniel Mumby)

With the appeal being upheld, Mr Lyddon has until December 15 to remove the tree-house or he will face further legal action.

He said: “We are obviously disappointed by the council’s decision, and perplexed at the planners’ refusal of such a low-impact temporary structure where the children can play and learn about their environment.

“A connection to nature and the ability to play and exercise their imagination are going to be instrumental for our children to solve some of the challenges that lay ahead of them.”

Mr Lyddon said changes were needed to the planning system to better acknowledge the value of green spaces and provide more protection for the natural landscape.

He said: “The planning system is skewed in favour of projects that bring mostly financial gain at a time when access to open spaces and nature is more important than ever.

“We recently refused to sell our land to developers hoping to incorporate it into part of of a large housing project which was fortunately turned down – but had we accepted their offer, the outcome might have been different.

“Obviously, there is a need for affordable housing for young local people, but there are hundreds of second homes in our area that remain empty but for the odd week or two.

“We know that there is wildlife living in and around the hide at the moment, and with this in mind we would be reluctant to remove the structure.”

View of Minehead rugby club behind the tree house
View of Minehead rugby club behind the tree house
(Image: Daniel Mumby)

The government has launched its white paper Planning for the Future , which lays out its intended reforms to the planning system by which new homes, commercial premises and other facilities are approved by local councils.

South Somerset District Council (which borders Somerset West and Taunton) passed a motion on October 15 to oppose the reforms, describing them a “developers’ charter” and accusing the government of “playing fast and loose with the planet”.

To take part in the Planning for the Future consultation, visit www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future before October 29.

Somerset Live Bath