Plans for tree felling and planting at New Square in Cambridge are on the agenda of Cambridge City Council’s West/Central Area Committee to be held on Thursday 30 April 2009 at 1915 in the University Centre off Mill Lane.
The proposals include felling five healthy trees (pictured) which the council’s own experts describe as being in an “early-mature” stage of their lives with a remaining life-span of around fifty years. The reasoning given for the felling is to enable line of new trees, which will be all of the same age, to be planted along the north side of New Square. The report states:
The establishment of a single row of lime trees would unite the planting on the square, [and] create a uniform, linear feature which would define the north side
The council’s tree officers appear not to have considered there are good reasons for not having trees all the way along the north side of New Square. The report states:
Five early-mature whitebeam trees grow on the north side, opposite the detached house, No 49 New Square. The rest of the frontage is bare. … It is important to continue a line of trees along this road as the present situation lacks definition and enclosure.
The proposed new planting will separate the houses on both the north and south sides from the square; currently houses have an excellent aspect across the grass to the avenue of trees in the middle of the square. It appears to me that trees have intentionally not been planted directly in-front of the houses in the past so that light can be let in.
In addition to the plans for the new line of lime trees on the north side of the square there are proposals to “enclose” the rest of the square through additional planting on the boundaries. New trees are also proposed for the small island of grass nearest Fitzroy Street, I think the proposals for four new trees on this little patch of grass is excessively dense planting.
Similarities to Parkers’ Piece
This is very similar to the situation at Parker’s piece, where in November 2008 the City Council felled a line of trees, to enable new consistent planting all along one side of the square there.
The decision to do that felling was taken to the West Central Area committee (as these plans are about to be), and councillors at that meeting not to discuss the details of the tree works in public at the meeting but resolved to let interested councillors discuss and agree them with officers. It appeared that only Cllr Rosenstiel, City Councillor for Market ward, was interested so I presume it was him who agreed the Parkers’ Piece fellings. The trees on Parker’s Piece were felled a few weeks after the West Central Area committee decision, so if a similar pattern is followed here there is not long left to act.
Liberal Democrat councillors speaking at a full council meeting on the 23rd of April 2009 gave an assurance that a new more democratic method of making tree related decisions, including better public awareness of what is proposed is now in operation, however I see no evidence of it with respect to these plans.
On Friday 24th April 2008 I canvassed residents of New Square making people aware of the council’s proposals and seeing what they thought of them. I spoke to people from around ten households.
None of those I spoke to supported the council’s plans to fell the five whitebeam trees, or to plant around the north, south and west sides of the square.
- The link to the Parker’s Piece trees was made in almost all conversations, often not by me, one resident said: “I’d assumed the Parker’s Piece trees were diseased or too old” they were shocked at the idea the council would fell healthy trees just to enable consistent planting on one side of a square.
- Many asked if I was running a petition, or suggested I start one. I explained the council didn’t appear to take petitioners seriously and pointed to the fact the petition against tree felling at Brooklands Avenue (Hobson’s Brook) was largely ignored. I suggested writing to councillors, attending the West / Central Area committee and generally raising awareness of the plans.
- All but one person said they were unaware of any plans the council had for the trees. Most thanked me for alerting them.
- One resident suggested Jesus College might have a veto over the council’s use of the square, they noted the terms of the college’s gifting the land to the council required it to be made green space after a period of time as a car-park and thought the college might have retained other rights to influence decisions such as tree planting/felling. They suggested I contact the college bursar both on this point, and as a means to contact residents, many of whom are Jesus College staff.
- A couple of residents were concerned the plans would make their houses dark. A resident on the south side (north facing) remarked their house wasn’t particularly light at the moment, even without any trees directly in-front of it.
- A resident told me that Anthony Bowen, an ex. Liberal Democrat County Councillor, and possible candidate in future elections, lived on the square. Perhaps he will explain his party’s obsession with felling trees to make way for grandiose plans to his neighbours. Alternatively he may have sufficient influence within the party to pursued them to call off the chainsaws.
- The most common comment was simply : “Why?”, and on hearing the council’s desire for consistent planting and enclosing the square, repeating the initial comment of “Why”?. Other responses to the plans included “That’s ridiculous” and “How stupid”.
- Most residents were aware of the council’s tree felling elsewhere in the city, eg. on Hobson’s Brook and at the station.
What I Would Do:
- Follow the council’s plans for the Emmanuel Street boundary of the square, which will result in a line of evenly placed lime trees there. (I can’t understand the council’s unrelated plan to get rid of the bus-stop lay-by here and get the new guided buses to stop in the road, surely off-road bus stops are a great thing for keeping traffic moving.)
- I would leave the whitebeam untouched; when they start dying – in say fifty years time – that’s the time to chop them down and replace them with similar pretty blossom trees.
- I would plant new lime trees in the six identified gaps in the diagonal avenue.
- I would not plant the proposed new trees on the North, South, and West sides of the square, on the grounds that
- I disagree with the council officer’s view that an enclosed square is desirable.
- Allowing light to the houses, and allowing an open view from the houses and road on to the square ought be prime considerations
Apologies if I mixed up lime trees and plane trees during discussions on Friday.