Months More Delay and Consultation for Jesus Green and Midsummer Common Tree Plans


Thursday, September 30th, 2010. 3:28am

On the 23rd of September 2010 I attended a special meeting of the West Central Area committee which discussed proposed tree works on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common.

After three and a half hours of officer presentations and public input the councillors took just a few moments to approve the proposals which were put to them by their officers. They made only two very minor amendments to the plans for this winter and clarified two points of longer term strategy:

  • Decisions on what to do with two memorial trees on Jesus Green, planted in memory of a child who died while at Park Street School, will be first discussed with the school and relevant family.
  • Views from Jesus Green onto the Jesus College accommodation on Park Street are to be protected.
  • The cherry tree avenue on Jesus Green will be replaced with new cherry trees when the existing trees become diseased and/or unsafe. Councillors expressly confirmed the any new trees will be with the same species; whereas the officers had merely proposed “renewal”.
  • The horse chestnuts lining Victoria Avenue will be replaced as they become diseased and/or unsafe.

While they voted to approve the proposals; councillors did not give the go-ahead for the works. Despite having just run a workshop, a consultation in which two hundred and ninety three responses were obtained (a number of which were from representative bodies), as well as the special meeting of the West/Central area committee which had been designed to allow more than the usual level of public involvement councillors decided to kick off a further two month consultation period.

Cllrs Bick and Reid abstained from a vote on proceeding to any decision at all at the meeting.

Cllr Hipkin appeared happy to give the go-ahead to the officer’s proposals straight away, on the grounds he felt they reflected the consultation response; he didn’t even think the input from the public at the meeting was necessary. On a number of occasions he appeared to be suggesting that councillors shouldn’t be making the detailed decisions; he wanted to trust the officers who he spoke very highly of.

Residents of Brunswick Terrace and North Terrace are to have their own special consultation running from the 27th of September to the 25th of October. Their consultation will include another meeting and will be limited to the planting along the south side of the common. Councillors were unclear on when they will discuss the results of that consultation and make a decision on what to do in that area, though it was suggested it would be brought to a future West/Central Area Committee.

At some point in October the city council will start following its tree protocol in relation to these proposals. This will see notices announcing work is planned placed on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common for the first time, and further comments from the public and interested parties will be sought. Where there are objections to proposals they will be taken to the council’s planning committee who will advise the Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation, Rodrick Cantrill, who will have the final say on the works. As I understand it during the tree protocol proceedings no new planting can be proposed, but a stop may be put on either planting, felling or moving particular trees.

The Cambridge News report following the meeting stated “All felling will be subject to planning applications”; this isn’t the case. Any fellings to which there are objections will be considered by the planning committee, but not as planning applications. The committee will merely be advising the Executive Councillor, Cllr Cantrill.

While councillors approved the proposals they decided not to spend any time debating the proposed fellings on the grounds that they would go through the council’s “tree protocol” procedure and any objections could be dealt with there. Those who had objected via the workshop, consultation or in person at the meeting were in effect ignored and challenged to re-submit their objections if they were serious.

The officers’ presentation suggested there were some trees exempt from the city council’s tree protocol. Mr Constable of the Jesus Green Association queried this and received an assurance that this was a mistake and that in fact all trees were covered by the protocol. Officers had said planting of trees not relating to the tree protocol would take place from October to December, and other planting would take place in December; presumably now no planting will take place before December.

The only element of the plans councillors really debated was the planting of six weeping silver limes near the point where the paths cross on Butt Green. Cllr Rosenstiel proposed removing this planting from the proposals on the grounds of reducing visibility on a key cycle junction and on the grounds they amounted to too much incursion into the central green space on the common. No councillors supported Cllr Rosensteil. Cllr Hipkin pointed to the consultation responses in which ~75% of respondents agreed with more planting along the paths in this area.

Cllr Bick abstained even on the vote on areas A,F,G, and J which were generally uncontroversial. He briefly commented that the proposals amounted to merely maintenance rather than strategic planting, but he made no proposal himself for any alternative.

The only other slight dissent was an abstention by Cllr Zmura on the vote on replacing the leylandii on Jesus Green with limes ; Cllr Zmura didn’t speak publicly at all during the meeting so her lack of support was unexplained. It appeared Cllr Smith, who was sitting next to Cllr Zmura asked her why she didn’t vote but her reasons were not shared with the public.

While he didn’t say anything on the subject Cllr Rosensteil looked as if he felt the armidilloo toilets didn’t need shielding behind trees.

The Survey

The consultation survey came under fire, almost to the point of ridicule, from both members of the public and Cllr Julie Smith. Officers defended it, despite it having been outsourced to the council tree team’s favourite consultant Phil Back Associates. It is not clear if when I previously questioned if the consultants had been brought in simply to copy and past the questions, and any paper responses, into SurveyMonkey and send the results to the council I might have been right. The main problem being that for some questions all options involved felling and there was no option not to fell.

Interests

No councillors declared any interests. Cllr Cantrill admitted to recently speaking to Mr Bowen, who has ties with the Jesus Green Association, Park Street School, and Jesus College. I have also been told Cllr Cantrill had met with the Friends of Midsummer Common before the meeting. During debate Cllr Cantrill also revealed he had given a personal commitment about the strategy with respect to Victoria Avenue to the Jesus Green Association prior to the meeting. I think it would have been useful if Cllr Cantrill had told the public and his fellow councillors about any of these, no doubt entirely non-predjudicial, back room machinations when the chair called for declarations of interest.

Background Materials

Video Clips from the Meeting

Public Speakers

Officers

Councillors

The meeting went on for over three and a half hours, the above videos are not a complete record of the meeting.

See Also

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