Mrs Kesler Asks Cambridge City Council For Permission to Prune Her Apple Tree


Wednesday, February 10th, 2010. 2:05pm


Owlstone Road, Newnham.

Owlstone Road, Newnham.

Liberal Democrats ruling Cambridge City Council appear hell-bent on making the city an impractical and expensive place to live and do business in. Expanding the areas of the city which are covered by conservation areas is one of the ways in which decisions made by the local council have a damaging effect on the city. I believe the Liberal Democrat’s aim is to try and keep the rif-raf (in their eyes – students and house sharers) out of Newnham, Riverside, and the De Freville Avenue areas of the city. If that’s not the aim it’s certainly the effect. Conservation areas also make it very difficult for people to adapt their homes to suit different stages of their lives, prompting some to move out of the city.

Just how much state control is exercised over those living in conservation areas is illustrated by a current tree works application from Mrs Kesler of 26 Owlstone Road in Newnham. Mrs Kesler wants to prune her apple trees; under the Liberal Democrat regime she dare not just do it; she has applied to the council for permission to. I quote from her application:

T1 – Apple: crown reduce by approx 1m; crown thin by approx 20% off the longest growths and shorten laterals branches by approx 0.75m
T2 – Apple: crown reduce by approx 1m; crown thin by approx 20% off the longest growths and shorten laterals branches by approx 0.75m
T3 – Prunus: remove epicormic growths from base and lower trunk

During the consultation period which followed Mrs Kesler’s application I responded to the call for comments by writing to the council in support, I said:

I think this is state interference in people’s lives gone bananas.

Mrs Kesler shouldn’t need the the council’s permission to prune her apple trees, not even if they’re in a conservation area.

I fully support Mrs Kesler’s application to prune her trees – let her get on with growing her apples .

Mrs Kesler has employed Mr Cole of Eastern Tree Surgery to deal with her application to the council on her behalf. While I do not know why Mrs Kesler is engaging professionals it is possible she has done so simply to deal with the bureaucracy. Using professionals may be an attempt to ease the passage of her application as the Liberal Democrat city council advise that tree works have to be carried out to a good standard, and say they often require adherence British Standard 3998 – a document which as far as I can see is not freely available, though a table of contents can be found.

I think it’s really silly that Cambridge City Lib Dems – who’re pushing “conservation areas” to ever wider areas of the city are requiring people to apply for permission to prune their fruit trees. I noticed this was a problem in the Riverside area last year, where people there with fruit trees in their gardens were seeking to prune them resulting in the streets being plastered with public notices.

There was no public notice relating to Mrs Kesler’s application on Owlstone Road, and no dates associated with posting one are mentioned on the council’s planning portal. Tree works notices are common though throughout Cambridge’s Conservation areas. I spotted two on nearby streets when I went to look at Mrs Kesler’s apple trees before commenting on the application. The only notices on the street are in relation to a Queens’ College proposal to refurbish the Owlstone Croft site behind.

The council have set a “Target Determination Date” for the decision on if Mrs Kesler can prune her apple tree of the 26th of February. The application can be followed via the page on application 10/016/TREE2 on the city council website.

I spoke to Liberal Democrat Cllr Neale Upstone about Mrs Kesler’s application, and the general problem as I see it of people having to ask permission to prune their fruit trees. He suggested I approach Cllr Sian Reid, the City Council’s Executive Councillor for Climate Change and Growth, who he thought might have the power to put a stop to what is happening. Before the West/Central Area Committee on the 4th of February 2010 I had a brief opportunity to ask Cllr Reid why the she thought it right to require applications for permission to prune apple trees, citing Mrs Kesler’s application which is in Cllr Reid’s ward. Cllr Reid responded to say that she believed it was the law that required applications to made. Cllr Cantrill and the Leader of the Council Ian Nimmo-Smith quickly both jumped in on this line which they all appeared believe absolved them from any responsibility for the ludicrous situation, despite their role supporting the maintenance and expansion of Cambridge’s conservation areas.

Mr Cole of Eastern Tree Surgery has commented on a previous article I have written, I have invited him to comment on this one.

21 comments/updates on “Mrs Kesler Asks Cambridge City Council For Permission to Prune Her Apple Tree

  1. Malcolm Gray

    Is it not normal for someone pruning a tree to have to check for tree preservation orders or conservation areas and tree surgeons to offer to do the check and application?

  2. Malcolm Gray

    http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/li-treesinconsareas says “Buildings, landscape features and trees all contribute to the special character of a Conservation Area. The importance of trees in Conservation Areas is recognised in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (external site, opens new window) which makes special provision for trees in Conservation Areas which are not already protected by a Tree Preservation Order. ”

    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1990/ukpga_19900008_en_16#pt8-ch1-pb5-l1g211

    which certainly suggests it is the law

  3. Neill Campbell

    I think you will find that by virtue of reg. 10(1)(a) of The Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999 (SI no. 1892 of 1999) and the schedule to them, the requirement to notify the Planning Authority does not apply to “the pruning, in accordance with good horticultural practice, of any tree cultivated for the production of fruit” (unless the fruit tree is subject to a Tree Preservation Order)so maybe Mrs K did not need to notify for the pruning works to her fruit trees – though she would for pruning of ornamental cherry (prunus).

  4. John Ionides

    The big problem I see with the extension of conservation areas is that they make like difficult for the general public (e.g. I wonder how much pruning three trees would end up costing, both in terms of time and money) and yet large scale development (e.g. Three Crown’s House; Kaleidoscope; 13 Chesterton Rd) have managed to get around any restrictions. In other words, far from conserving, they seem to have the effect that only large, well-funded and/or well-connected projects can go ahead while making it hard for ordinary people to make changes (and even if the regulations might not forbid something, I suspect that poor understanding of what is/isn’t allowed just stops people form even trying).

  5. Mike Curtis

    Richard,

    I agree with you that it is bureaucracy gone bananas and that the Lib Dems do seem to be intent on making Cambridge a place for their own ilk and to hell with the rest although it does look on the face of it that they can hide behind the law in this instance if one looks in isolation at the detail supplied by Malcolm Gray dated 10th Feb last. If that is the case then I would suggest that the law requires changing with regard to fruit trees in a domestic garden.

    But which part of the Act applies, because as Neill Campbell ( if it is the Neill Campbell that I know he is a property lawyer) has also pointed out on 10th Feb last:

    “I think you will find that by virtue of reg. 10(1)(a) of The Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999 (SI no. 1892 of 1999) and the schedule to them, the requirement to notify the Planning Authority does not apply to “the pruning, in accordance with good horticultural practice, of any tree cultivated for the production of fruit” (unless the fruit tree is subject to a Tree Preservation Order)so maybe Mrs K did not need to notify for the pruning works to her fruit trees – though she would for pruning of ornamental cherry (prunus).”

    That aside, having witnessed this Lib dem council’s behaviour and attitude over the last few years I have come to the conclusion that they are an arrogant, self-centered and secretive bunch who accept no or little responsibility for their actions. They totally forget that they are public servants paid for out of the public purse. I’m not suggesting that we go back to the days when they would sign off letters as “Your obedient servant” ; but they have to realise that they are in a position of privilege and honour and that they are not the masters and we the servants.

  6. Dr John Wilkes

    As one who works with Lib Dem Councillors as a volunteer, I certainly don’t agree with all their decisions, but I do know from day to day observation that they work hard for the public good as they honestly see it. I have not met any ‘arrogant’ Councillors. (Can we have names, please?) Councillors can hardly be ‘secretive’ when their names, addresses, interests, policies and decisions are publicly available. They submit themselves to public judgement by standing for election and it is a fact that the three Newnham Liberal Democrat City Councillors have all been re-elected at least once.

    Incidentally, I live in a conservation area. It is exasperating not to be able to take an axe to superannuated trees, but conservation areas are vital elements in keeping Cambridge the beautiful place it is.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    Another Newnham Apple tree pruning application has been submitted to Cambridge City Council.

    T1 – Apple: reduce the length of four of the peripheral branches by not more than 10%

    All this bureaucracy for 10% off four branches of an apple tree. This time the applicant is Dr P La Hausse of 57 Grantchester Street.

    As I did with Mrs Kessler’s application, I have written to the council expressing my support for the state not interfering with Dr La Hausse’s apple growing. I added:

    If these apple tree pruning applications are being submitted unnecessarily perhaps the council could improve the advice it gives applicants.

  8. Step

    This is indeed bureaucracy gone mad. There is a difference between pruning and felling. Pruning is part and parcel of good maintenance and management of the land. Without it fewer trees would survive long enough to need preserving. I think we need to regain a proper sense of perspective here.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    Now a Newnham resident, Mrs J.C. Smart, has asked the council’s permission to trim her back hedge.

    An application to trim the rear hedge at 40 Barton Road was “validated” by the council on the 6th of June and a notice, dated the 23rd of June, is on the gatepost of the property.

    The “proposal” is described as:

    Cypress hedge on left hand side of rear garden – reduce height by 30%, prune back hard from garden side, the leaning Thuja in line with other tree leaving growing points where possible and trim your side only to tidy.

    There are costs, and delays, involved in these kinds of applications.

    This is the first application on the site, yet it appears to me that the hedge looks as if it’s been trimmed quite recently as the top is not green but I can see what look to me like sawn off branches.

    If I trimmed my hedge in a conservation area by 10% three times would I still need permission? (Yes I know that’s 2.9% less than cutting it by 30% in one go, even if it didn’t grow back!)

    This an example of why I oppose the expansion of conservation areas into the suburbs, and oppose the way Cambridge City Council are using them; this is excessive state interference in people’s lives.

    In this case the hedge in question is a relatively substantial leylandii hedge, though it’s only just visible from the road. But its only a leylandii hedge, it’s not something of great value.

    I note this application has been put in via an agent, Aaron Mackenzie of Eastern Landscape Services Limited, I do wonder if these applications arise primarily when householders employ people to do work – generally the hedges of Newnham look very well kempt, yet the council has not been overwhealmed with applications for permission to trim them.

    Ref: 12/201/TTCA.

    I have commented in support:

    I think this is state interference in people’s lives gone bananas.

    Mrs Smart shouldn’t need the the council’s permission to trim her back hedge even if it is in a conservation area.

    I fully support Mrs Smart’s application to trim her hedge.

    If this hedge trimming application has been submitted unnecessarily perhaps the council could improve the advice it gives applicants. I would hope any unnecessary application could be cancelled, the applicant be refunded their fee, and officer time put towards something more productive.

    I note that it appears to me that the hedge has been trimmed before, cut tops are visible, yet I can see no previous application and the current application is not described as retrospective. If an officer report is produced, I look forward to reading about the hedge’s trimming history and the current position in relation to this application.

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council have just sent me a paper letter through the post to tell me they’ve given permission for the hedge at 40 Barton Road to be trimmed.

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mrs Phelps of 13 Lyndewode Road Cambridge is currently seeking permission from Cambridge City Councillors to carry out “general prune” of her pear tree.

    https://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=N5791XDX07800

    Mrs Phelps is also seeking to reduce the height of a plum tree by 1m, thin it by 10% and raise the height of the canopy to 2.75m

    I will comment as I have done before, and can be seen above.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      My submission, which I marked as one of support, states:

      I think this is state interference in people’s lives gone bananas.

      Mrs Phelps shouldn’t need the the council’s permission to prune her apple trees, not even if they’re in a conservation area.

      I fully support Mrs Phelps’s application to prune her trees – let her get on with growing her pears and plums.

      If these fruit tree pruning applications are being submitted unnecessarily perhaps the council could improve the advice it gives applicants, and update its process for dealing with them. Instead of considering unnecessary applications the council could just reject them and not take residents’ money and remove the administrative burden from the council.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Executive Councillor responsible for the Cambridge City Council planning department has tweeted to me, in relation to my suggestion he put a stop to this nonsense:

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Tim Ward has passed me the following response from Cambridge City Council planning officers:

    I am responding to your enquiry for greater clarification to the relevant exemption, relating to fruit trees.

    In this clarification I will refer to the: Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as the “Act”; The Town and Country planning (trees) Regulations 1999 as the “Regulations”;

    The law relating to trees in Conservation Areas is set out in the Act and Regulations.

    All trees in Conservation Areas are protected in a similar way to those trees under a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). This allows a local authority to protect trees with a TPO were it expedient in the interests of amenity to do so in response to a notification of intended works. The guidance issued advises that it may not be expedient to protect trees that are subject to good management.

    The Act prohibits certain activities without prior consent of the Local Authority. These activities include ‘lopping’ and ‘topping’. It also allows local authorities to prosecute where an offence has occurred. For example an offence might include pruning without consent, unless the work is specifically exempt.

    The circumstances of these exemptions are set out in the Act. Additional exemptions which include those relating to fruit trees can be found in the Regulations.

    In 1999, the Regulations were amended and the exemption applicable to fruit trees was strengthened. Essentially the single previous exemption was replaced with two, relating to commercial operations and all other cultivated trees. The exemptions can be found at Article 5(b) and 5(c) of the Model Order in the Regulations, respectively.

    (b) the cutting down, topping, lopping or uprotting of a tree cultivated for the production of fruit in the course of business or trade, where such work is in the interest of that business or trade or

    (c) the pruning, in accordance with good horticultural practice, of any tree cultivated for the production of fruit.

    The exemption in the draft regulations issued in 2010 is in identical terms.

    Fruit trees are trees like any other tree in their potential for amenity and therefore can be protected under a Tree Preservation Order. As such it does not seem obvious to me Parliament would allow under an exemption something which is prohibited for all other protected trees i.e. their pruning without the prior consent of the local authority; except where it would be considered good management. Good management is the essence of the two relevant exemptions at Article 5(b) and (c).

    The exemption at Article 5(b) of the Model Order in the Regulations relates to commercial fruit trees that by implication are under good management.

    The subject exemption appears at Article 5(c) and the key phrases are ‘the pruning’, ‘good horticultural practice’ and ‘tree cultivated for the production of fruit’. It is clear to me there is a necessary link between these phrases, and that ‘horticultural’ relates to the cultivation of fruit giving meaning to the type of pruning exempt.

    Fruit trees require specialised pruning techniques when managed for fruit production. These techniques constitute good management and as such it is easy to see why Parliament would not want to prohibit them. The thinning out of fruiting spurs, removal of diseased wood and water shoots, formative pruning for fruit production and winter pruning are all examples of good horticultural practice, in relation to apple trees.

    The phrase ‘tree cultivated for the production of fruit’ has the following meaning: a tree which is being cultivated at the time of the works in question and that the purpose of the cultivation is fruit production. Picking apples for eating for example, is not sufficient to say the tree is being cultivated; some relevant and recent proactive management is required.

    Moreover the exemption does not simply state ‘pruning in accordance with good practice’ or does it state ‘pruning in accordance with good arboricultural practice’. If it did I would understand that the general amenity pruning operations such as crown lifting, crown reduction, crown thinning, pollarding would apply under the exemption. In addition, if the pruning were not associated with the production of fruit then pruning for any reason (as long as the pruning was carried out in accordance with good practice) could be undertaken without notification. For example crown reduction to control size, crown thinning to increase light levels and crown lifting to abate a nuisance overhang would all be exempt.

    ================================================================

    Specifically on fees:

    ================================================================

    There is no fee associated with an application.

    I note Mr Taylor’s comments in relation to the process, however the process does protect individuals from carrying out work without permission, especially if they unsure or in doubt. If the application is considered to be for exempt work, the applicant would be notified and the application can be withdrawn, by the applicant. Many applicants prefer not to withdraw and wish for the process to time out after 6 weeks, and therefore permission is given as a default.

    The officers attached a scanned page from a book.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      There are so many bizarre aspects to this. Not least the idea that you can apply for something that doesn’t need permission; and you’ve been told doesn’t need permission, but after six weeks permission is given.

  14. anadapter

    I wonder if people realise how silly and restrictive conservation areas are before they sign up to the idea? It’s ridiculous that someone can’t simply manage a tree sensibly without having to get permission to prune it. It would be another matter if it was to be removed completely (although what would you do if it became seriously diseased?) At the same time, as we saw at the last rather lively West/Central committee meeting, heritage lampposts (for want of a better term for old street furniture) which are part and parcel of the general look of some areas aren’t included. It’s just bizarre.

  15. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Andrew Eaton of 48 St Barnabas Road in Cambridge is currently seeking permission from Cambridge City Council to remove five fruit trees from his garden (three cherries and two plums).

    This is application 14/224/TTCA which may be available, depending on how broken the council’s system is, at:

    https://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=N6LACEDX08H00

    One interesting element of the application is the use of triangles rather than the letter “A” throughout.

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    It continues…

    Dr Page of 85 Sturton Street is asking councillors for permission to trim a plum tree

    Mrs Williams of 35 Garden Walk is asking councillors for permission to prune an apple and a plum tree (among other tree works).

    Public consultations are being run by the council on both proposals.

    I responded to a recent consultation on the city’s tree policy suggesting this sort of thing be stopped:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/my-response-to-cambridge-city-council-tree-policy-consultation.html

    There has been little evidence that councillors have taken any notice of the consultation responses.

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