Three healthy, mature, century old, London Planes lining Carlyle Avenue in central Cambridge are the latest trees to be threatened with felling by the Liberal Democrat run city council.
Notices which appeared on the trees on Friday the 3rd of September claim structural damage is being caused to neighbouring properties leaving the council with two options: either pruning by 70-90% (a course of action the council admit may compromise the health of the trees) or felling them.
The full notice states:
Cambridge City Council
Department of Environment
Cambridge City Council manages trees on the Parks and Open Spaces. This London plane tree is causing structural damage to an adjacent property. The council has been asked to prune the trees by 70-90% and to remove the re-growth annually to prevent further damage.
This will reduce the size of the tree and may compromise its health. An option would be to fell it and plant with a similar tree further into the park.
Proposed work to this London Plane tree
either Prune by 70-90% and remove the re-growth annually
and replace with a similar tree further into the park.
Reason for work:
The tree is causing structural damage.
- Any objections of representations should be submitted to the Director of Environment and Planning
- An objector must identify the particular tree, trees or group of trees, to which his/her comments relate and must state the reasons for the objection.
- Objections may be submitted by post or email and any electronic submission must include the full name and postal address of the objector.
- All correspondence shall be received by 21 September 2010
On the 3rd of September 2010 notices were attached to the trees threatened with felling.
Director of Environment, PO box 700, Cambridge CB1 0JH.
Email: diana.oviatt-ham at cambridge.gov.uk
This is one of the first tree works notices to follow a reorganisation within the council; evidently they have created a “Department of Environment” and a “Director of Environment” (The “Director of Environment and Planning” has apparently been retained, as that is the postholder to whom objections are to be submitted)
Seeking Further Information
Clearly the notices on the trees do not provide all the information it would be desirable to have before taking a decision in relation to these tree works. To seek to address this I have made a freedom of information request, in public, using WhatDoTheyKnow.com to ask for the request made to the council and any other material on which the council has based its assertion the trees are causing structural damage. (The notices indicate its not just the person making the request, but the council themselves who believe structural damage is occurring)
I knocked on the doors of both the nearest neighbours’ houses on Friday the 3rd of September. A resident of 3 Fisher Street told me that the request to take action in respect of the trees had not come from them. She said that she was aware a number of the houses in the area suffered damage due to the presence of the trees and asked me if I would support felling the trees if I owned a house that was being damaged (I hadn’t at this point expressed my own view). The person I spoke to at 3 Fisher Street said she had not yet decided if to either support or object to the proposals herself.
While a television was on, windows were open, and washing out on a line no one answered the door at 13 Holland Street, which is the other property directly across Carlyle Avenue opposite the trees. It appears most likely it is the owners of 13 Holland Street which want to see the trees lopped.
The London Plane trees under threat are the same species, and appear to be of a similar maturity to those trees forming the Plane Tree avenue across Jesus Green. The council’s tree officers have recently stated that those trees, most of which are 120 years old can be expected to last another 100 years.
In March 2009 substantial crown reduction work was carried out to these Plane Trees along Carlyle Avenue. I was a little concerned when I first saw the extent of what was then proposed, but thought that the council’s tree officers and their contractors carried out that work excellently. Plane trees can grow very big, and wide, when unchecked and I would completely support regular, say five yearly, reduction of the trees to keep the crowns to their current size and ensure their grown remains balanced thereby increasing their chances of surviving the next century. What I do not want to see is repeated significant crown reductions which will leave us with trees which are unable to survive.
Works on trees on the other side of Alexandra Gardens have recently been in an attempt to alleviate damage to properties backing onto the space but the effect of that work was minimal compared to what is proposed here. The trees which are currently threatened with felling are regularly maintained by the council. Some in trees in the line have metal struts and pins helping keeping branches from splaying and falling. The trees are in my view currently well managed and carefully monitored.
Mature trees in the prime of their lives like the London Planes cannot be easily and rapidly replaced. They are a huge asset to the city. Without them the character and feel of park, the road immediately next to, and under, as well as the wider area will be significantly changed. The park, and these trees are in an area of very high density housing (Terraces on Searle Street, the upper end of Carlyle Road, Alpha Road, Hertford Street etc. ) so green space and trees is of particularly value in this city centre location.
The Plane Trees along Carlyle Avenue are growing in a line, and are growing together, their value to the local environment is also not as individual trees but as a linear feature. I think it makes sense to manage this line of trees as a whole in a consistent manner and it would make no sense to fell or drastically reduce a few trees.
If the city council it to take any action here I think it ought be to assure the property owners that they will continue their existing regime of monitoring, maintenance, and regular removal of re-growth in the crowns of these trees. I think it would also be reasonable for the council to assist owners of neighbouring properties in obtaining permission to excavate the pavement opposite the trees should the property owners wish to, at their own expense, survey the extent of any root incursion into their properties, and/or carry out any work such as installing an impermeable barrier or strengthening their foundations.
It appears that in respect of some trees the property owner may be seeking the destructive work to the trees merely to protect their garage. The properties in the area are very old, about as old as the trees I would guess. Many properties in the vicinity, show evidence of instability and evidence of strengthening and stabilising work having been carried out can be seen on properties well away from trees.
If the trees were to be felled, dying roots, and the subsequent shift in the earth which would surely result from such a large mass being removed may be just as likely to cause damage as further growth of the trees and their roots.
I think it is an astonishingly selfish move by the property owners to seek the destruction of some of the city’s most valuable trees; I would say “for their own gain”, but I think losing the trees would be to their detriment just as much as everyone else’s; they currently have a very special property with in an idyllic setting yet they apparently want to trash their immediate environment.
City Council tree felling now follows the city council’s tree works protocol.
This requires objections to be made to ensure felling decisions are made by democratically elected and accountable councillors and not council officers. Where there are objections the final decisions relating to tree works on the city’s green spaces are taken by the Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation, currently Cllr Roderick Cantrill, a member of the Liberal Democrats elected by residents of Newnham. The city’s planning committee will discuss the proposed works and provide advice to Cllr Cantrill. The Liberal Democrats rather inconsistently delegate small planning decisions to local area committees, but keep the tree advisory role of the committee centralised.
It appears the Liberal Democrat City Council is trying to keep these latest felling proposals quiet, they have not mentioned them on their
Trees and tree works webpages.
While Cllr Julie Smith was the executive councillor with responsibility for trees on the city’s green spaces she gave clear instructions to the council’s tree officers requiring them to obtain her approval before publishing plans for consultation on major tree works. This gives us three options, one of which must apply to the current situation:
- Cllr Cantrill has rescinded the requirement for officers to seek his approval before publishing proposals for major tree works on the city’s green spaces; or
- Cllr Cantrill is countenancing the proposals for destructive lopping or immediate felling of these trees; or
- There are rogue city council officers loose with chainsaws.
If Cllr Cantrill has no intention at all of approving the felling then he should not have allowed the proposals to go to consultation, which takes up a lot of local residents’ and council officers’ time and effort.
I have been unimpressed with Cllr Cantrill’s actions since his party, the Liberal Democrats, gave him responsibility for the city’s green spaces in May. In my view he failed dramatically this summer to protect Jesus Green when instead of speaking out clearly against the damage being done to the grass by reckless use of barbecues he equivocated and decided not to support enforcement of the rules.
Oddly Cllr Cantrill has presided over a proliferation of signs on the city’s green spaces which, among other things, promote the ban on fires. Responsibility for protecting city’s green spaces is a hugely important job, and one I hope Cllr Cantrill either gets a grip of soon, or members of the Liberal Democrats ensure he is replaced before doing more damage which will take very many more years to recover from than the scorch marks on Jesus Green will.
Cllr Cantrill has made some encouraging comments with respect to new tree planting on Midsummer Common and Jesus Green; but when the consultation document proposed in relation to that was published, presumably with his approval, it left mass felling as an option.
Cllr Cantrill was absent from the last West/Central area committee where it was revealed that instead of turning to him to ask if developers of the regional college ought be allowed to breach their planning conditions and access their site boundary via the common to erect large advertising hoardings and demolish the existing wall and fence council officers instead turned to local resident Dick Baxter.
I am baffled by why, after years of excessive tree felling and grandiose schemes to “develop” the city’s green spaces Cambridge residents keep putting the Liberal Democrats in charge of what are some of the city’s most valuable assets.
- New Tree Planting for Midsummer Common and Jesus Green – Current consultation September 2010
- More Than 665 Trees Felled In Cambridge Last Year – February 2009 Article.
- Tree Felling on Midsummer Common – April 2009
- Hobson’s Brook and Empty Common Tree Felling – March 2009
- City Council proposals to fell trees on New Square – April 2009
- Tree Felling at Parker’s Piece – November 2009
- Cambridge City Council to Fell 73 Trees at Byron’s Pool – January 2009
- Proposals to remove 59 trees on Jesus Green – November 2008