Felling of Mature London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens Proposed

Cambridge City Council is Considering Felling Some of The Mature London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens.

Cambridge City Council is Considering Felling Some of The Mature London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens.

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

Alexandra Gardens

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.

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.

13 Holland Street is the nearest property to most of the trees threatened with felling or destructive pruning.

13 Holland Street is the nearest property to most of the trees threatened with felling or destructive pruning.

My View

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 threatened trees have substantial trunks.

The threatened trees have substantial trunks suggesting they are of a similar age to those in the Jesus Green Plane Tree Avenue

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.

The currently tree-lined Carlyle Road would be changed dramatically if the trees were to be lost.

The currently tree-lined Carlyle Road would be changed dramatically if the trees were to be lost.

Decision Making

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.

If the trees lining Alexandra Gardens were to be felled the green area would cease to feel so separate from the neighbouring high-density housing.

If the trees lining Alexandra Gardens were to be felled the green area would cease to feel so separate from the neighbouring high-density housing.

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.

45 responses to “Felling of Mature London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens Proposed”

  1. I have written to the council formally objecting to the proposals:

    Dear Cambridge City Council’s Director of Environment and Planning,

    I am writing to oppose the proposed tree works on three of the London Planes on Alexandra Gardens which line Carlyle Road.

    The London Plane trees which are threatened with either potentially destructive pruning or felling are of the same species, and appear to be of a similar age as those trees forming the Plane Tree avenue across Jesus Green. The council’s tree officers have recently stated that those trees on Jesus Green, most of which are 120 years old can be expected to last another 100 years or so.

    Mature trees in the prime of their lives like these cannot be easily and rapidly replaced, it will be impossible to replace them within our lifetimes. They are a huge asset to the city. They are something we have inherited from those who have gone before us and that we should pass on to future residents of the city.

    Without these trees 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 particular value in this location.

    The impact on the park will be to reduce its current seclusion and separation from the surrounding urban residential environment.

    The value of the line of trees is much greater as a continuous whole than it would be if it were fragmented by removing a series of trees; as a whole the line of trees has much greater impact on both the park, and the road than individual trees would.

    I believe these trees are currently well managed by the council and as I understand it they have recently, in March 2009, undergone crown reduction work. While I think the council ought be good neighbours and assure the owners of near-by properties that this current management will continue; to prune the trees substantially more drastically to the point where their health is threatened or to fell the trees is in my view the wrong approach to any problems being caused by their roots.

    I would support the council assisting property owners if they wanted, at their own expense, to excavate the pavement on the far side of the road to the trees to survey them, or take other action such as underpinning and/or creating a barrier to further incursion by roots.

    I note that many properties in the area have suffered from subsidence the vast majority of which are not in the vicinity of trees. I an concerned that the decision to blame the trees for any particular structural problems may have been too hasty and if councillors are considering drastic action I would urge them to consider if they are satisfied that other explanations for structural damage have been robustly discounted.

    As far as I can see these proposals have not yet been publicised on the city council’s website. I would like to suggest that full details of the proposals are placed online and given appropriate prominence. I understand more detailed options have been described in a letter to immediate neighbours than have been posted on the trees themselves. It would be useful to have the public speaking rules for any planning committee meeting made clear in advance. Previously on tree items only those who have submitted comments by the deadline have been allowed to speak, in line with the rules on planning applications; if the greater flexibility with respect to tree items which has been called for is now to be permitted that too needs to be publicised.

    I would also like to suggest that it is pointless running a consultation if the executive councillor is already sure about the decision they are going to take (I don’t know if that is the case here, but am raising it as a suggestion for the future). Also If the council has further material of use to those responding to a consultation for example in this case survey reports, photos of structural damage, reports from experts etc. it would be useful to proactively make those available online.

    Lastly I worry that acceding to this individual request may set a precedent which if followed could see many of the city’s valuable trees come under threat; a decision to fell could even have repercussions for urban trees elsewhere.

    [Full name and address]

  2. There is an auto-responder on Diana Oviatt-Ham’s email address (the address given on the notices on the trees) implying she is away until the 13th of September.

    Will representations be received in-time for them to be incorporated in the report to the planning committee; which I understand is to consider these fellings on the 22nd of September?

    I have written to my active local councillors, Mike Todd Jones and Tim Ward sending them a copy of my objection.

  3. I am a long term resident of Alpha Road. My family have used and enjoyed Alexandra Gardens for 45 years over three generations. I am appalled by the high-handedness and drastic nature of this proposed action and I doubt it is at all soundly based. I have written to the City Council opposing any felling whatsoever and extracts of my objection follow :

    I do not wish to see such old and magnificent trees felled for no clear or valid reason. They are part of a line of London Planes which would be destroyed by partial felling.
    I have contacted the owner of the property which is apparently suffering subsidence (13 Holland St.) through my wife in person (Sunday pm 5/09/2010) and he told her the following:
    • that the subsidence has been monitored by contractors representing his insurance company over two years:
    • they decided that there was ground shrinkage and roots (presumably London Plane ?) present, which were causing the subsidence:
    • that he (the owner) did not want the trees removed and would rather see the property underpinned:
    If the trees are removed and replaced by ‘a similar tall forest tree’ (letter from Mrs. Oviatt-Ham 3/09/2010) then the status quo is merely postponed. The new trees, when established, will transpire as the Plane trees are doing now.
    I suggest to you that there is no adequate reason for felling trees on the reports of the contractors who would say such a thing anyway and who are representatives of the insurance company who do not want to pay for any remedial work.
    Furthermore, the whole area is built on riverine clay which has been contracting & expanding with changing water status for a long time. Very many houses in the adjoining streets have suffered cracks and subsidence even if they are not close to trees, which is normal. Contractors always blame the nearest tree for water removal and there is no sudden requirement that these magnificent trees should be felled as the immediate ‘cause’ of the subsidence: when clay contracts it is due to a balance of rainfall, evaporation, drainage and removal by plants and trees, rarely one single and recent cause. The water status of the subsoil is mainly created by the rainfall over a short time span. The trees are as old as the houses nearby – why has the shrinkage suddenly appeared after 100 years due to the trees ?

    If the trees are left alone the house can be pinned by the insurance company and the park will be left for the community to enjoy.

  4. There are longterm problems in Maids Causeway which has London Planes very near to the Regency period houses. These trees are oversized for the street and have been blamed for causing problems for the houses in the past. Many houses have been previously underpinned with a varying degree of

    As the subsoil is clay, while it is true that trees absorb a great deal of moisture from the
    ground, normal seasonal variations in soil water content will also affect the houses possibly
    causing both subsidence and heave.

    In my experience these old houses have virtually no foundations, and will have been moving
    since they were built.

    In the past the council has been successfully sued by at least on householder as they had left
    the trees to grow unchecked. The resulting payout funded their house underpinning, but since
    then the trees have been pollarded regularly by the council to restrict their size. As far as
    I am aware they cannot now be successfully sued.

    The houses pictured may not have very deep foundations either, however I would have thought
    that individual tree roots could be identified as causing specific problems and dealt with.

    Crown reductions will reduce the moisture requirements of the trees, but in the end the
    properties may need some remedial work to repair problems.

    Expert opinion we sought is that these older houses should not be underpinned. More
    sympathetic treatments are appropriate. Cracks can be reinforced and repaired by technologies
    such as Helibeam as and where required.

    The widespread clay subsoil in Cambridge causes a lot of problems, but in my opinion it does
    not justify such radical action as suggested by the council or we will lose trees everywhere.

    Furthermore, taking out trees can cause the most serious problems to occur as is suggested.

  5. Cllr Ward, one of my local councillors, and a councillor for the ward in which these trees are located is generally one of the better Liberal Democrats. However when I sent him a copy of my objection and urged him to join me in opposing the proposed tree works he responded saying just:

    I am surprised that you haven’t come across the tree protocol. If you really can’t find it please let me know and I’ll find out why it isn’t on the web site.

    He made no comment at all on the substantive matter; I hadn’t even mentioned the absence of the tree protocol from the council’s website when writing to him. (I had though pointed out that these particular proposals are not, as far as I can see, publicised on the website, and more details of the process to be followed have been made available to near neighbours than is formally accessible to the public. )

    I have written a number of articles on the council’s tree works policy:

    Links from those articles lead to draft versions of the protocol.

    I wrote back to Cllr Ward expressing my disappointment with his response, and again encouraging him to join me in opposing these fellings. He replied cryptically :

    I’m afraid I can’t do that because I don’t accept your premise.

  6. As for the Maid’s Causeway London Plane trees; I think they are in a very different context, closer to the properties.

    I think the way they are currently managed is excellent and they have tolerated the pollarding very well.

  7. Thank you for your blog and all your research. I live adjacent to Alexandra Gardens in Searle Street and I object most strongly to the plans to fell or drastically prune these magnificent, healthy trees. As far as I know, my property does not suffer from subsidance.

  8. I hope very much that people will speak out in the strongest terms against the felling of these magnificent trees that bestow us with their gifts of beauty, strength and wildlife.
    I walked up Carlyle Road on Sunday and tried to imagine the character of the place without these magnificent trees and the sound of the wind in their leaves. The road and park would feel empty and bleak… why on earth would anyone sane choose this option if the trees may be preserved and pollarded?
    Someone with no sense of grace or imagination is proposing this decision.

  9. I agree. These wonderful trees enrich our lives as individuals and as a community. They are beautiful and a day does not go by when I rejoice in the quality, stature and history of these magnificent trees. There are too many other factors to consider and there are other solutions – like underpinning.

  10. Perhaps prompted by what I have written here, Cllr Ward has responded to me again, unprompted, with a more rational and satisfactory response:

    I’m looking into the Carlyle Road trees. The issue is, it seems to me, how confident we are that the tree in question poses a serious risk to property – I’m told there’s an independent report (not commissioned or paid for by the householder) which I’m waiting to see.

    It is excellent that Cllr Ward is now at last looking into the fate of these trees.

    I’m not sure he’s quite grasped the matter; as even if the tree is causing a serious risk the next question is what action is needed to make the property safe. That doesn’t have to be action involving the tree – it could be strengthening the property’s foundations, or installing a barrier to prevent incursion of roots.

    Should the report Cllr Ward has been told exists be held by the council they should release it in response to my FOI request which is being conducted in public at:


  11. This is very good news. We are meant to be living in a democratic society with freedom of information in order to make rational, reasoned decisions. Fingers crossed the independent report supports other solutions.

  12. Richard, well done again for championing the alternative to the drastic felling of trees which we are informed by world expert Professor Oliver Rackham, will last another
    100-200 years.

    I am surprised that the Councillor isn’t taking more of a lead. The householder involved is against felling of the great trees and dubious about their effect.

    [Name removed on request from named individual 12 November 2012] who lives in Alpha Road has had subsidence problems, she has had her house carefully monitored by structural engineers and they report that the rumoured effect of the plane trees is no such thing but in fact down to other factors mentioned above.

    Many European cities have plane trees in their centres and near buildings, they are not ‘ forest trees ‘ as our ‘expert’ Diana Oviatt Hamm has described them and I do agree with the COuncillor that there must be a real effort to isolate the role of these trees in relation to subsidence before action is taken.

    As you say Richard, the management of them has been good so far but to cut them down.

    Frankly almost every house in this area has subsidence, here in Hertford Street it is common and there is no sign of a plane tree. The soil and the terrain is the cause as any structural engineer will report to you. To axe these wonderful trees will not stop subsidence, it’s the area and the fact that these houses don’t have much of a foundation, rubble I believe, and are built on the old quarry site .

    Thank you Richard for alerting everyone to this , as you say , the Oviatt Ham is unavailable until after the consultation date is over, very helpful.

  13. In the 1970’s I was told that buying a house in the vicinity of Alexandra Gardens was problematic because it had once been a quarry (?) and that the houses tended to settle. It sounds as if the insurance company (surely not with the connivance of the Lib Dems?)wants to save itself money. It would be expensive to remove the trees, and madly injurious to the environment.It would be a sad loss to anyone in the area and I imagine would affect the re-electability of any local councillor who did not take steps to find an alternative solution.
    I live in Garden Walk.

  14. I’ve only just found your website – brilliant. Lots of really good information to include in my letter of objection. I’ve been handing out slips about the trees to people passing by in Carlyle rd – giving them the information to object straight into their hands. I’ve handed out quite a few and people have said they will tell their neighbours. I’m now putting a link to your website on my slips, I hope that is OK?

  15. Jack Grove of the Cambridge News is researching an article on these proposed fellings. He is interested in speaking to people to find out their views. He can be contacted on:

    Jack.Grove -at- Cambridge-news.co.uk

  16. Astonishingly the notice of these works still has not been posted on the city council’s website:

    I understand that Cllr Cantrill has issued a press release; however he has not followed the usual practice of either the council or his party and published it online. Press releases from Liberal Democrat executive councillors are usually available online at either:


    No local councillors have yet sent me a copy of the press release either. If I get a copy I’ll post it here in the comments.

    The press release is not on Cllr Cantrill’s personal website either: http://rodcantrill.mycouncillor.org.uk/

  17. The report on these trees which is going to the planning committee on the 22nd of September has been published.

    It makes a recommendation to fell at least one, and possibly all three, of the trees:

    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=2426 (0.5MB PDF)

    While up until this point only three trees were to be affected, and only three trees have notices on them the report indicates work is proposed on five.

    Astonishingly there is a statement:

    The identity of the property has not been disclosed to protect the owners.

    What are they protecting them against??? While local residents’ opposition has been strong, well argued, and a number residents have obtained views of academics and other experts none have made any threats of violence or anything like that.

    Perhaps the council is not identifying the property concerned to protect their property’s resale value?

    The report reveals the 30% reduction in 2009 was prompted by a previous complaint from the same property.

    The report has been produced before the end of the consultation period, which the notices on the trees stated closes on the 21st of September.

    The prospect of the council paying for underpinning works to the property is raised. This is presumably what the insurance company were seeking – to pass their costs off onto Cambridge residents; I think this ought be resisted on the grounds the management of the trees is excellent and highly considerate.

    The report makes clear (point 11, page 14) that the owner of the affected property is pushing for the removal of at least one tree. This is contrary to what those in the property have reportedly said to those who’ve spoken to them.

    The report states the trees are in Castle Ward. This is wrong. It raises the question of if the wrong local councillors have been consulted. The report explicitly states it is the Castle Ward councillors who have been consulted. If this is what has happened this is one of three serious breachs of the council’s tree protocol in this case – and clearly amounts to maladministration in my view. (The other breaches being the lack of notices on all the trees and a failure to post a notice of the consultation on the council’s website). A formal complaint to the council may be appropriate; perhaps it would be best to wait until after next week’s planning meeting in case Cllr Cantrill comes to his senses and makes a decision not to fell (and not to destructively prune) at that meeting.

    Surprisingly, according to the Local Government Ombudsman, the council is not compelled to stop work while a complaint into maladministration is investigated. To stop the work would presumably require an injunction; but while one can get an injunction for a breach of planning control, I don’t know if one would be obtainable on the basis that the council has not followed it’s published tree policy.

  18. I have received a reply from the Council in response to my letter objecting to the felling of the trees. Residents have been invited to have their say at a meeting on 22nd September…..sadly it does not look good.

  19. I wrote to the council about it and received a standard reply, which states that they have “sought independent advice. A firm of structural engineers has assessed all the evidence available and met the engineers for the other party involved to discuss the matter in depth. The Council’s independent engineers have concluded that the building is suffering structural damage which is attributed to the moisture take up of the London plane trees growing on Alexandra Gardens.” No doubt others have received this too.

    They address and refute most of the points Richard has raised regarding faults in the council’s arguments;
    • If the trees are removed the ground will swell and heave will occur with potential structural problems.
    • If the trees are removed the ground will move as the roots die and cause further structural problems.
    • No solid evidence as to the damage caused.
    • Trees are too far away to cause a problem.
    • Site of former brick works

    I don’t accept these peremptory refutations. The soil problem, as many here have attested, is a general one in the area. Our house on Victoria Road has slipped (mostly apparently in its early years, possibly even while it was being built). While building an extension, it was revealed that the original foundations for our house (a four storey townhouse semi built on a slope) comprised precisely two courses of bricks. That is more likely the problem.

    Alternative solutions are dismissed;
    • Root barrier; The Highway Authority will not allow the installation of a root barrier within the carriageway.
    • Underpin the property; The Council’s insurers support the two proposed options. If the Council does not follow the report’s recommendations it is likely that the Council will lose its insurance cover in relation to this and other claims of damage relating to these trees.

    The crucial point seems to be the last one; loss of insurance cover if they are not chopped down. So it is the profit-motivated decision of the Council’s insurance company which is driving this, as suspected. The council doesn’t go into any more detail about the underpinning, but we must assume that if the trees are not felled, this is the only option and the council will be responsible for the costs, the insurance company having absolved themselves of this. Why did the council sign a presumably-city-wide contract with an insurer who, despite taking on an estate (Cambridge city) containing many thousands of mature trees in a high-density city environment, exclude tree root damage from their liabilities? Was the decision made on cost, without consideration of the coverage provided? If so, we have to conclude that the council has no interest in protecting its mature trees. This is all the more strange since the council is Lib-Dem controlled – a party who have driven policy in recent decades on environmental issues.

    I have been in touch with Jack Grove, a reporter at the Cambridge Evening News, who is writing a story on this issue. He’s calling around later today. He would like some people at the site to be photographed. If anyone could spare a moment, please call me and I’ll try to organise the timing.

    Andy Davey
    07831 535982

  20. Just to update – I am meeting Jack Grove at the Carlye Road site at 1:30pm today. If anyone can spare a moment, that would be helpful. Thanks.

    Andy Davey
    07831 535982

  21. Thanks to Andy’s organisation the Cambridge News photographer took photos of local residents, and the trees; hopefully there will be an article soon.

  22. Those who made formal objections received the below message from the council this morning:

    Dear Resident

    Cambridge City Council: Active Communities
    Management of Trees on Open Spaces: Alexandra Gardens

    I wrote to you on 3 September 2010 concerning the proposed tree works to three London plane trees growing on Alexander Gardens. I am writing to you now to acknowledge that the Council has received a response from you and to advise you that you have the right to speak at Planning Committee on 22 September 2010. The details for which are set out at the close of the letter.

    I would like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to write, the Council welcomes your comments and concerns. All your comments and representations will be reported to Committee in order for Members to be aware of the public view and to inform their decision making. There have been many responses to the consultation letter and I am taking the opportunity of writing a generic letter to all those who made representations as it is not possible to respond to you each individually.

    Independent advice
    The Council has sought independent advice. A firm of structural engineers has assessed all the evidence available and met the engineers for the other party involved to discuss the matter in depth. The Council’s independent engineers have concluded that the building is suffering structural damage which is attributed to the moisture take up of the London plane trees growing on Alexandra Gardens.

    Alternative tree works
    The trees were reduced in volume by 30% in March 2009. Unfortunately, the reduction was not sufficient to abate the subsidence and following the dry period last autumn further movement occurred.

    Tree barrier or works in the highway to prevent root encroachment.
    The Highway Authority will not allow the installation of a root barrier within the carriageway. The Council’s independent structural engineers do not support the installation of a root barrier because it will be impossible to install and maintain a secure barrier. Any barrier will have to be fixed around existing underground public utility services allowing spaces for the roots to penetrate and the repair of these services will breach it further.

    Plant and establish replacement trees before felling.
    The property has been damaged because the trees are taking up water and changing the ground conditions, as long as the trees remain in place further damage may occur.

    Underpin the property
    The Council’s insurers support the two proposed options. If the Council does not follow the report’s recommendations it is likely that the Council will lose its insurance cover in relation to this and other claims of damage relating to these trees.

    If the trees are removed the ground will swell and heave will occur with potential structural problems.
    The structural engineers for the property in question and the City Council do not anticipate problems associated with heave.

    If the trees are removed the ground will move as the roots die and cause further structural problems.
    The roots will die and rot away, there should be no adverse ground movement.

    No solid evidence as to the damage caused.
    There is well documented evidence to support the request.

    Trees are too far away to cause a problem.
    The evidence provided shows live roots against the property. The roots have been analysed as London plane.

    Site of former brick works
    The structural engineers have discounted the use of the site as a former brickworks as causing the structural damage.

    Right to attend Planning Committee on 22 September 2010
    As someone who has commented on the proposals you have the right to speak at committee. The Council has adopted a policy to enable members of the public to speak at meetings of the Committee. To be eligible to speak you must meet the following criteria:
    • You have submitted a written representation relating to the application,
    • You have registered with the Committee Manager that you wish to speak at the meeting by 12 noon on the day before the meeting.
    To register your request to speak please contact Glenn Burgess, the Committee Manager for Planning Committee on 01223 457169 by noon of 21 September 2010. You may attend the meeting even if you do not wish to speak.

    Planning Committee meetings begin at 9.30am and are held in Committee Rooms 1 and 2 of the Guildhall, Cambridge.

    The following procedure has been agreed:

    1. A person can speak once on an application for up to 3 minutes (with the Chair having discretion to extend this time limit). The Chair will determine the order in which applications will be considered and announce this at the beginning of the meeting.

    2. The number of persons permitted to speak on each proposal will normally be limited to one from each side (i.e. either in objection/or in support of an application). Where several people wish to speak on a matter, the Chair will normally ask for one person to act as spokesperson for the group. Only where the group have different points of view, is the Chair likely to agree to more speakers.

    3. Anyone can speak on a proposal provided they have made written representations and have registered the intention with the Committee Manager prior to the meeting. Speakers need not confine themselves to points raised in their written representations.

    4. Applicants or their representatives may speak on the proposal provided they have registered the intention with the Committee Manager prior to the meeting.

    5. The procedure shall be applied fairly by the Chair who has sole discretion on the interpretation of the procedure.

    In helping you decide whether you wish to, or indeed need to speak at the meeting you can view Planning Committee reports on our website http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/councillors/comtabl4.htm. Alternatively a hard copy can be sent to you on request. Please note the reports are available 5 working days prior to the date of the meeting.

    Yours sincerely

    Mrs Diana Oviatt-Ham
    Principal Arboricultural Officer

  23. The email address for the planning committee officer, Glen Burgess, was not given. It is:

    Glenn.Burgess -at- cambridge.gov.uk

  24. We should coordinate further plans for opposing this council proposal. I will try to attend the meeting. It would be good for as many concerned residents as possible to attend. I note that we have to register our request to speak and we may be limited to one speaker as a group. We would then need to ensure whoever speaks is fully briefed. Time is short.

    It would be very useful if Richard could send a group email to all who have contributed here so far so we can communicate via email in the interim.

  25. Researching the issue, the website:
    includes tables of safe planting distance for various tree species. The second table suggests 10m for a Plane tree 30m high.
    This may be less than the distance involved to 13 Holland St, I am not sure without a site visit. Anyway, if there is a problem with tree roots undermining the property, then why can they not be cut off, at some risk to the tree, within the boundary to the property? Felling, or the 70%+ pruning seems to be a far too drastic action here, but I will visit the site on Saturday to investigate.

  26. Some points to note in defence of the trees;

    The options, according to the report of the Arboricultural Officer (Mrs Oviatt-Ham) to the Planning committee for Wednesday’s meeting states that there are these;
    Option A To undertake tree works which will not require any repairs to the property (this is the felling/90% pruning option) or
    Option B To retain/not reduce the trees and pay for the underpinning works and other associated costs.

    It seems as though Option B has been rejected already. Even though it is impossible to quantify the value of such trees, a valuation system, known as the capital asset value for amenity trees (CAVAT) was supposed to be adopted by every local authority in the country in 2008 to prevent the massacre of trees blamed for subsidence in buildings. In Mrs Oviatt-Ham’s report, Option B (above) is considered and costed. The loss of amenity value per tree calculated using CAVAT is £115,000-£140,000 per tree. [Most street trees are worth between £8,000 and £12,000.] This places an overall cost of the three trees at somewhere near £300,000-400,000.

    Contrary to the anecdotal evidence above from Mr Hill (which I’m not disputing), the Arboricultural Officer states that “a meeting was held in June 2010 with the owners, the loss adjuster and engineers and arboriculturalists from both parties. Whilst the engineers and arboriculturalists were prepared to negotiate a regime of regular tree management, the owners and loss adjuster would only consider either the removal of one tree and substantial reduction of two adjacent trees which would not require the property to be underpinned or the retention of the trees and the underpinning of the property.” Someone is either not telling the truth or there has been a misunderstanding.

    I’m putting together a flyer to deliver to local residents tomorrow.

    Also, if people want to get together to discuss strategy, we’d be happy to meet on Monday evening, either at our house or a local venue.

    my number is 07831 535982
    email cartoons [at] andydavey.com

  27. Here is the text of a flyer we’re just about to go out and deliver around the locality. If anyone wants to help, please call me on 07831 535982.

    “The problem
    These beautiful 105-year old London plane trees in Alexandra Gardens are being blamed by an insurance company for causing structural damage to one property. The Council is proposing to chop down up to three of these trees and severely prune the others. Should insurance companies decide the fate of a magnificent row of trees, planted with great care for future generations of residents? They are likely to last, if left alone, for another 100 years or more. Find out more details here;

    The Council’s proposals
    The Council claims that felling or reducing these trees by 90% and substantial pruning to two other trees, in line with the house owners’ insurer’s request, will solve the problem. This will alter the road and the park substantially. It will ruin a beautiful park. These trees are in very good condition. The council has stalled a request for the relevant details of their report to be published until AFTER the deadline for consultation. It will be too late then to mount a defence.

    What are the alternatives?
    There are alternatives such as root cutting within the property or Helical bar insertion or simple allowance of some movement, as is common with old houses on clay.

    What can I do?
    • Please email the Director of Environment and Planning at this address immediately;
    simon.payne@cambridge.gov.uk and cc to diana.oviatt-ham@cambridge.gov.uk. Please tell them that you object to this proposed felling.
    • Attend the meeting of the Council Planning Committee at 9:30am on Wednesday 22nd September (THIS WEEK!) at the Guildhall which will decide whether to recommend the felling.
    • Andy (07831 535982) and Liz (07812 579907) would welcome the opportunity to meet other concerned residents to discuss strategy. Monday night 7pm? Let us know if you would like to meet. Or, contact Bruria Shachar-Hill (bsh1@cam.ac.uk) of Save Our Open Spaces (www.soscambridge.co.uk) who would be interested in any comments to help her mount a defence at the Planning meeting. Please get in touch.

    The damage to the locality would be unquantifiable. These trees contribute to the fabric and beauty of our local environment. Please oppose the felling. There are alternatives.”

    If you want a fully laid-out copy with pictures (as a word doc) to print out yourself, let me know.

  28. I have just written a defence to Mr Cantrill (who will make the fonal decsision) and to all members of the planning committee (councillors) who will sit in the meeting on Wednesday. They will make a recommendation to Mr Cantrill. Here is the text;

    “Dear Mr Cantrill

    Re: Felling of trees 105-year-old trees on Alexandra Gardens

    You will be aware, holding the brief for Cambridge open spaces as Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation, that the Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer is considering the felling of up to three healthy 105-year-old Plane trees in Alexandra Gardens, facing on to Carlyle Road. I hope it is OK to write directly to you over this matter; I feel very strongly about it and want to make sure you receive a balanced view of it before the Planning committee make their recommendations to you for a decision.

    I was absolutely shocked to receive the letter from Mrs Oviatt-Ham dated 3 September, which stated her opinion that “it may be pertinent for the Council to consider removing these two trees” (and irretrievably damaging another and heavily pruning two more).

    I wish to state my strenuous opposition to the proposed felling. Every attempt should be made to protect these beautiful, magnificent trees, rather than to cut them down without full and balanced consultations of expert opinion, not merely structural engineers and insurance companies.

    We residents have only been allowed 10 working days to mount any objections we may have in order that our points may be heard at Wednesday’s Planning Committee meeting. I received a subsequent letter from Mrs Oviatt-Ham, refuting objections raised and letting me know that I could attend the meeting, but that only one person was allowed to speak in opposition to the proposals, so “Chair will normally ask for one person to act as spokesperson for the group”. I have no idea how many people will be at the meeting, wanting to speak. There is no organised group. We are simply local residents. How could we possibly organise a group, consider complex options, choose a representative and present alternative solutions in 10 working days? The problem has been known to the Council since 2008. Why have residents only been informed in the last three weeks? I consider this insufficient time for any opposition to be prepared. I strongly object to the seemingly summary decision to go ahead with the cull and feel that the Council has not given due democratic process so far. Moreover, why has Mrs Oviatt-Ham only informed councillors in the Castle ward of her opinion? The trees are on the outer border of Arbury ward and adjoin West Chesterton ward. Have these councillors been informed?

    In her report to the Planning Committee, Mrs Oviatt-Ham provides an “Option B” in which “the trees can be retained/not reduced, but the property would be underpinned to prevent further structural damage.” However, later in the report, this appears to be rejected on the grounds that the Council may be responsible for covering the costs because their own insurance company might not cover tree root damage, stating that the Council’s duty “to comply with the terms and conditions of the Council’s insurance policy” and “to manage the Council’s financial resources responsibly”. She also states that “whilst the engineers and arboriculturalists were prepared to negotiate a regime of regular tree management, the (house) owners and loss adjuster would only consider either the removal of one tree and substantial reduction of two adjacent trees which would not require the property to be underpinned or the retention of the trees and the underpinning of the property, the costs of which would be recovered.” My own research, albeit anecdotal via a third party, is that the house owners DO NOT wish the trees to be felled, but are at the mercy of their insurance company, which is searching for a way to avoid paying for anything.

    The problem
    Cracks seem to have been occurring in the rear extension and garage of one house for the last 7-8 years. I certainly understand the owners’ concerns. It must be very worrying, but I fear they may have been given only one side of the argument. The local subsoil is riverine clay. Any geologist will advise that clay shrinks and expands with changing moisture content, with or without trees. Plane trees reach effective maturity at around 60 years; some 40 years ago in this case. The water requirements of these trees will not have increased much since around 1970. If the trees are to blame, why has the problem only occurred recently? The last decade has been an exceptionally dry one on historical time scales. Shrinkage would be expected. Moreover, it is one of the few hilly areas of the city. Many properties in the area, mine included, have suffered from subsidence, slippage or settlement due to poor foundations rather than trees. Trees will, of course, contribute to loss of soil moisture, but they may not be the major cause. Botanists and tree technologists will tell you that, in drier conditions, trees actually withdraw less water from the soil than in wet periods.

    Even if these trees are contributing to the subsidence, we should consider alternatives. Mature trees in the prime of their lives like these cannot be easily and rapidly replaced, certainly not within our lifetimes. These magnificent Plane trees were planted by people with a communitarian vision for the future. They generously gave these trees to us.

    The trees are a huge asset to the city. They belong to and are enjoyed by the community. Unfortunately, despite Mrs Oviatt-Ham’s assessment that they are trees of “exceptional quality, stature and history” they are not subject to Tree Preservation Orders. In my opinion, their amenity value is priceless, but even on the Council’s own national CAVAT system for assessing the asset and amenity value of trees, each of these trees is valued at between £115,000 and £140,000. Surely, if these assessments are to mean anything, to chop down communal assets to the tune of up to £300,000-400,000 for the sake of the price of underpinning or similar, would be carelessly profligate, at the very least. These trees are healthy and would probably last another 100-150 years if they were left alone; that is another 4-6 generations of residents.
    Without these trees the character and feel of park, the road immediately next to, and under, as well as the wider area will be significantly changed. The impact on the park will be to reduce its current seclusion and separation from the surrounding urban residential environment. Such an attractive space bounded by mature trees is a rare thing in modern cities. I cherish it. So should the council.

    I am concerned that the decision to blame the trees for any particular structural problems may have been too hasty and if councillors are considering drastic action I would urge them to consider other possible causes and solutions.
    I would urge the Council to assist property owners to take other action such as underpinning, root cutting or alternative, modern alternative reinforcements (e.g helical bar technology) which are cheaper and more sympathetic to movement.

    Right Now
    I would implore you to please consider at least delaying any decision until a balanced set of opinions is received (including experts like the National Trust, soil experts and specialist builders). I wouldn’t mind contributing to the costs, if necessary. Moreover, it would be useful to have extra time to allow the house owners to be apprised of ALL sides of this argument. I would urge you to consider the opinions of the insurance companies as, at the very least, partial. These trees are a beautiful asset to the local environment, enjoyed by many. Please do not allow them to be chopped down for the want of informed opinion. I urge this generation of local governors to adopt the far-sightedness possessed by their predecessors.

    Yours sincerely

    Andy Davey”

    I copied it to all bodies who were informed by Mrs Oviatt-Ham too.

  29. I have had a fairly positive reponse to my email from Councillors Tunnacliffe and Nimmo-Smith, both of whom are actually on the Planning Committee. Damien Tunnacliffe is coming around to our house tomorrow night (Monday)at 7:30-ish to discuss it further. If anyone else would like to join us, you would be most welcome. If you could let us know in advance, that would be helpful.

    email cartoons [at] andydavey.com
    mobile: 07831 535982
    address: 65 Victoria Road

  30. As this is my route several times a day, felling those trees would break my heart. I’ve posted a link to your site from my Facebook profile. I might recommend creating a protest group there. Facebook was, I believe, quite influential in bringing the plight of the Portland Arms to the attention of the community.

  31. The initial comments on the Cambridge-News article about these proposed fellings are hostile to me, and others objecting to the fellings. This might be due to the way the article has been written, suggesting there is a credible risk of a substantial sum of tax payer’s money being lost if the trees are not destroyed. It also might be Liberal Democrat supporters who don’t want it to look as if the man they’ve chosen to take care of the city’s green spaces – Cllr Cantrill – is the only individual who thinks felling might be a good idea.

    Those commentating also appear to place a great deal of trust put in the council, and councillors. I hope any councillors reading the Cambridge News article and its comments will appreciate that and realise the responsibility that gives them.

    The comment I posted read:

    I am one of those who has objected to the proposed felling or destructive pruning of these trees, and therefore am one of those being attacked by the comments made so far on this article.

    James has stated that the trees will have Tree Preservation Orders on them so the decision will not be taken lightly. This is not the case. The Liberal Democrats running the City Council have decided not to put Tree Preservation Orders on trees which they consider are under good management, only a tiny handful of trees owned by councils or the universities are protected. The decision to fell will be taken by Cllr Cantrill; the planning committee will not have a veto as they would have if the trees were protected.

    James, anon and Sue Smith have are all suggesting that the cost to the taxpayer will be higher if the trees are not felled. My view is that it will be difficult for the householder to prove any damage is being caused trees and the council will not be taking undue risks with taxpayer’s money if they decide not to destroy these trees but to continue to maintain them well, and keep them under control, as they have been doing. If the council were to accept these trees were causing damage they might well open themselves up to claims from throughout the city. It looks to me as if an insurance company is trying it on and seeking to pass on its liabilities to the council; I think Cllr Cantrill ought to have rapidly dismissed this rather cheeky approach rather than consider felling and in doing so kick[ing] off the expensive consultation process.

    The council has attempted to value the trees add to the locality and the city (an impossible and rather abstract challenge) ; their calculations have led them to conclude that the trees are of greater value than the property it is suggested is being damaged.

    The suggestion has been made that council experts will make the decision. Again this is untrue. Something which I and others have successfully lobbied for has been for decisions such as these to be taken by democratically accountable elected councillors rather than council officers. While officers provide advice, and in this case are recommending felling, the final decision will be Cllr Cantrill’s. Under the current system objections are required to ensure that councillors rather than officers make the final decision; and this point was a major motivation for my own objection.

    Despite apparently responding only having read the news article commenters are accusing objectors of being ill-informed. There is a problem here, there has been an astonishing level of secrecy from the council regarding these fellings. The identity of the property which is supposedly suffering damage has not even been released in order to protect the householder. The council has not promptly supplied details of the householder’s claims, or the engineer’s report, to councillors or members of the public despite requests for it.

    I have written an article on the proposed fellings (http://rtaylor.co.uk/3427), this contains links to all the publicly available information, and the comments on it include my, and others’ objections. I suggest that what city residents, though the councils, should offer the householder is a commitment to keep the trees well maintained, and to offer permission to excavate the pavement on the opposite side of the road to the trees to install a root barrier should the housholders want to try that approach.

    I could have gone on, I could have challenged the commentator who suggested that the council could replace the trees by planting new ones and pointed out you don’t replace 105 year old trees with new saplings but when it gets down to that level of argument I think perhaps the point is so obvious any reasonable reader will see it for themselves and a rebuttal doesn’t really add anything to the thread.

  32. I am not able to attend the residents meeting on 20 September, but I have written to question the proposed felling and will do my best to attend the Council meeting. This is a matter of the quality of life of everyone who lives in this area. I would add that I also own a house on Victoria Road which had only two courses of brick as foundations, and I gather this was standard practice in local building in the late 19th/early 20th century. Underpinning has sorted out that problem.

    I will also be writing to my local councillors as there is a procedural issue here too: the timeframe for response was unreasonable (a letter dated 2 September which required a formal response by 10 September). This was compounded by the fact that the only address for a response was a Post Office box – not only no email address but no physical address to hand deliver a letter. This flies against the council’s own policy on wasting resources – in this case not only is a physical letter required, but it has to be transported (supermarket fashion) many miles further than necessary.

  33. I’ve just been informed by the committee mamanger, Glenn Burgess, that Wednesday’s meeting will (after consultation with the Arboricutural Officer and their legal department) NOT include the Alexandra Gardens issue. It will likely be deferred to the next Planning Committee meeting on 17th November, but that’s not definite. They will post something on their website this afternoon.

    We will still be meeting tonight as planned.

  34. Just had another call from Glenn Burgess. The next Planning Meeting is 20th October (NOT November 17 as I stated above) and this is when the issue is likely to be aired. Not definite yet. The Council will issue a notice on their website.

  35. I have just received the below:

    Mr Taylor,

    Please note that this item has been withdrawn from the agenda and is now likely [t]o be considered at the meeting on 20 October.

    Should you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact me

    Kind Regards

    Glenn Burgess
    Committee Manager
    Customer and Democratic Services
    Cambridge City Council
    Tel: 01223 457169

    I wonder if an explanation will be given, perhaps one will be given at the planning meeting?

  36. I have now been sent further information.

    The item was pulled from the agenda :

    “In the light of the many and detailed responses from the public to these works”

    That’s a quote from Mr Burgess.

    Mr Burgess has also confirmed that the final decision will be made [by Cllr Cantrill] at a special meeting of Community Services Scrutiny Committee to be called after the October Planning Committee.

    The Community Services Scrutiny Committee is only required if Cllr Cantrill is going to make a decision against the advice of the planning meeting; so it appears that the whole charade we’ll eventually get to witness in October has already been scripted, and Cllr Cantrill has already made committee managers aware he intends to go against the planning committee’s advice.

  37. I think that the issue here is one of trust. Can we citizens trust the council to take care of this valuable asset, being the fantastic heritage of our trees in the city, or do we have to check their every move? They will have to decide how this will play out with the public, who are clearly very passionate about this aspect of their environment, and balance that against the advice of those mindful of their insurance costs. Hopefully they will decide that the trust of the public is too valuable an asset to lose.

  38. Thank you Richard for your commitment and very comprehensive article. Thank you Andy and Liz and volunteers for the steering committee. It’s amazing so many people are prepared to give their expertise and valuable time. I’m a willing foot soldier.

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