Secret Consultation Underway on New Alexandra Gardens Trees Proposal


Saturday, February 5th, 2011. 3:07pm


Photo showing where trees will be cut to

The Council is Proposing to Cut Along The Dotted Line

On Friday the 4th of February Cambridge City Council secretly began a consultation with councillors on their latest proposals to carry out work to the London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens along Carlyle Road.

Councillors have been given until Friday the 11th of February to make their views known, but the proposals have not been published on the city council website and there are no-notices on the trees or at the site. For residents to be able to lobby their councillors on this they need information on what’s proposed. I think this secrecy is indefensible, especially as the Liberal Democrats running the council have stood on platforms promising openness and transparency.

The good news is that felling any of the plane trees is not one of the recommendations being put to councillors; it is not even one of the alternative options which officers have considered when producing the latest report. However very significant reduction of the crowns of three of the trees is being proposed.

The Council’s Current Proposals

The councils current proposal is to significantly reduce the crowns of three trees. The point at which they are proposing to cut the branches is shown on the red dashed line on the image above.

The following is the text of the proposals which councillors are currently being asked to comment on:

  • It is recommended to shorten all of the main branch structure, removing all of the foliage to create a significantly smaller crown size. (T2, T3, & T4) see appendix C. NB Dr Biddle uses different numbering and these have been change to reflect the claim numbering as detailed in Plan 1.
  • Plane trees will respond to this treatment by the production of a mass of new shoots around the cut surfaces and along the remaining branches. After 2 years 50% of the new shoots should be removed and the remainder reduced in length by 50%. After a further 2 years the shoots, which were previously reduced in length, should be entirely removed, and all new shoots reduced by 50%. This treatment should be repeated every 2 years, possibly increasing to every 3 years once the rate of new growth has declined as the trees readjust to the smaller crown size.

The reason given for proposing this work is “to avoid liability for underpinning” of 13 Holland Street. The owners of 13 Holland Street would be asked to carry on monitoring their property to determine if the tree work has been effective.

Councillors have been given a photo of a London Plane at Maid’s Causeway as an example of what the three trees at Alexandra Gardens will look like following the work:

Photo Showing Effect of Proposals

Anyone with views on these proposals should write to their local councillors with them as soon as possible, as councillors themselves only have until the end of the week to get their reasons for objecting (or reasons why the proposals should be published in full by the council) together and submitted.

Alternative Options Dismissed

The full list of options considered in the report to councillors was:

  1. The retention of all of the trees and continued monitoring of the property;
  2. The retention of all of the trees, with tree management to the trees implicated opposite 13 Holland Street and continued monitoring of the property
  3. Tree management of all trees on Carlyle Road
  4. Tree management of trees at Carlyle Road on Alpha Road
  5. Tree management of all trees.
  6. No work to the Trees

I’m not sure “No Work” to the trees is fair thing to have listed; as the trees already have been reduced by 30% and the council maintains all its trees carefully as a matter of routine.

Residents’ Report Not Circulated to Councillors

A major omission from the information circulated to councillors is the report prepared by the residents’ campaign group. The briefing note says it is included as an appendix C, but its not (the appendix C attached is the photos showing the extent of one the proposals for reduction). The report can be found at:
http://www.alexandragardens.org/Resources/ALEXANDRA%20GARDENS%20with%20Biddle%20Addendum.pdf

I agree with the conclusions of that report; which notes :

  • There is a small amount of seasonal movement, but no net subsidence. ie. it moves during the year but returns to its original level. (Clay soil does move annually whether near trees or not, responding to the summer-winter cycle.)
  • The problem is different parts of the house moving different amounts as the ground underneath gets wetter / drier over the year; this is a problem with the construction of the house and its extensions and not caused by external factors.
  • The root growth near the house is weak.

The council appointed professional advisor who, having looked at the site via Google Street View, provided them with contradictory advice which does implicate the trees as a cause of the damage to 13 Holland Street.

Financial Risk to the Council

The costs of underpinning 13 Holland Street are estimated at £60,000 plus £20,000 to re-house the residents while the work is completed.
The costs of the tree works is given as £1500 per tree every two years.
The council notes owners of be other properties in the area are making similar claims against the council or may be expected to in the future.

My view is that from a financial point of view the councils best strategy would be to robustly defend this claim, as otherwise it could end up being the first of many.

My View

Overall my view is that the trees ought be maintained in their current state – which is 30% reduced from their natural state following the works around two years ago. I think this allows the council to argue the trees are under good management and will help rebuff any claims against them.

I think the dramatic reduction of three trees proposed would be massively detrimental to the appearance of the area; it will leave the line of trees inconsistent and unequal. The only small positive might be that everyone walking or cycling past will be given a regular graphic reminder of the kind of irrational, inconsistent, destructive, decisions that result from voting Liberal Democrat; though there are plenty examples of that already around the city – we don’t need another.

Tree Protocol

Section 4.1 of the City Council Tree Works Protocol details the process for consultation on major tree works. This requires notices on trees and at the site and publication of details on the council’s website. This hasn’t happened yet – though it appears there are plans for a more public consultation, and another public meeting; it may be those will only be triggered if councillors raise an objection – I think the council has been unclear on this point.

The future proposals appear to include a planning meeting; but notably a public meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee, which is responsible for overseeing Executive Cllr Cantrill’s actions is not present in either the “next steps” or the “timeline” given in the briefing note. I think this is a key omission.

Source Documents (PDFs)

Further Information

I have written a number of previous articles which provide background:

The Liberal Democrats running the City Council have chosen Cllr Cantrill (Newnham) to lead on their tree works proposals in the city’s parks and open spaces, this choice my well be related to the fact his council seat is not to be contested again until 2014

11 comments/updates on “Secret Consultation Underway on New Alexandra Gardens Trees Proposal

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    The cost implications section of the briefing document states:

    Regular tree maintenance on this scale could cost £27,000 every two years. Pruning is estimated at £1,500 per tree every two years and there are 18 London plane trees surrounding Alexandra Gardens

    This appears to relate to the badly written option: “Tree management of trees at Carlyle Road on Alpha Road”; they’ve considered they might take the chainsaws to all the London Plane trees around Alexandra Gardens; and the three trees that are the subject of this consultation might just be the first batch.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have written to Cllrs Hipkin and Todd Jones:

    Cllrs Hipkin and Todd-Jones,

    I am writing to you as I have today, via various sources, been informed there is a secret consultation of councillors underway regarding the council’s latest proposals for tree works at Alexandra Gardens.

    As the proposals have not been published, and there are no notices on the trees or on Alexandra Gardens, I cannot see how your constituents are expected to acquire the information needed to lobby you from an informed position in advance of the deadline for your responses.

    I would like to urge you to try and push the council to :

    * Publish their proposals; and the reasoning behind them.
    * Place notices on the trees and on the site.
    * Hold a public consultation.

    As I understand it to kick this kind of activity off a ward councillor, and it probably has to be one of you two as the rest are Liberal Democrats, needs to object by Friday. (How the council is interpreting its tree protocol on this point isn’t clear to me. )

    I have written an article on the proposals at;

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/3860

    Linked from there is also the report by the residents’ campaign group which robustly challenges the conclusions of the council’s experts.

    Many thanks,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    I thought it was notable that the scrutiny committee meeting was omitted from the “timeline” and “next steps” section of the briefing document circulated to councillors on Wednesday.

    This might be a mistake, or it might be intentional. I don’t know if the item will go to such a meeting or not. There’s no requirement for Cllr Cantrill to make his final decision in public at a scrutiny committee meeting. In relation to the recent Midsummer Common works Cantrill made the decision in private and it was only teased out into the public domain via a public question at the West Central Area Committee and by then it was too late to argue with it.

    I’ve spoken a couple of times on tree matters at planning meetings and there they’re very much approving or not what’s in-front of them. At the planning committee it’s a yes or no decision, its not the place to argue for amendments / alternative courses of action.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News has an article based on the leaked documents:

    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/Saved-trees-face-being-hacked-back-in-proposal.htm

    Liberal Democrat Cllr Cantrill has, in a quote to the Cambridge News, put his weight behind the proposals put-forward by the council in the leaked documents. He is reported as saying:

    I would like to think the route we are proposing to take will preserve the integrity of the trees in terms of their amenity and the environment.

    This is notable as in the past councillors have sought to distance themselves from proposals put forward by officers; the words “we are proposing…” suggest Cllr Cantrill is supporting the massive reduction of these trees.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    This evening I attended a meeting of the campaign group where Andy Davey presented the group’s current evidence and lines of argument against the Liberal Democrat run City Council council’s proposals.

    The key point is there is no subsidence affecting the house in question; there is just a small amount of seasonal movement (~1cm max.) which returns to exactly the same level on an annual cycle.

    Below are some further notes from what was said:

    The property is on clay, which shrinks and expands as it gets wet in the winter and dry in the summer. The whole area contains properties which have cracked; and which have been built on unstable ground and there is evidence of settling during construction. Door to door surveys show this. The area wider than just the park itself was a brickworks and quarry this history has resulted in land which has been backfilled and is now unstable.

    The data from monitoring the house shows that original house (on brick foundations) sinks more seasonally than a new extension which is on a concrete slab. The cracks are all on the join. This can be used to argue that as a whole the property’s foundations are insufficient, and the cause of the problems. The join could have been done differently; it could have been built to allow flexibility, or the two parts of the property could be separated.

    The Building Research Establishment and Kew say 90% of damage occurs within 10m of trees; in this case we are well outside of that.

    The park is open ground which rain soaks into much better than the paved road and largely covered / paved plot on which the property sits. The tree’s roots are therefore expected to be mainly under the park, and to mainly extract water from that direction.

    The council is proposing a 30% reduction in the height of the trees. This means a 50% reduction in the height of the crown; and a 70% reduction in volume of the crown. There is a British Standard which suggests a maximum reduction in crown volume of trees like this of 30% (the council already did a 30% crown reduction in 2009).

    The cracks in the house are only 1mm cracks; these are deemed “aesthetic” by the Building Research Establishment; they suggest they can be repaired without even getting a builder in.

    The trees are in the top decile of value as assessed under the capital asset value for amenity trees (Cavat) system.

    Cllr Levy, and campaigners who’ve met Cllr Cantrill and officers, are of the opinion that broker Steve Allen’s aggression is scaring the council and is the main thing provoking them to consider the drastic action they are proposing.

    Cllr Levy committed to lobby Cllr Cantrill and ask him to allow the campaign group to make a presentation to the proposed public meeting.

    Cllr Levy stated the planning committee would make the final decision on the trees; all others present said that was not their understanding of the position.

    There was a discussion of the council’s tree consultant Dr Biddle. It was reported that he had stated that where a tree is near a property which is cracking he considers the tree responsible and if there isn’t a tree nearby he puts the cracking down to “individual circumstances”. Dr Biddle states “the summer of 2009 was generally drier than 2008″ however it appears he was using national statistics, and not local records which do not show this.

    Biddle’s report does not consider the different elements of the house, their foundations, and the junctions between them.

    Campaigners expressed concern that councillors would be unduly influenced by Dr Biddle’s interpretations of the data due to the fact he has an OBE and they would not look at the quality of the arguments being put forward. (Cambridge Liberal Democrats stand on a manifesto promising evidence based decision making).

    Liberal Democrat Cllr Levy told the campaign group that on the basis of the quality of his report he would be advising the council not to use Biddle as their expert again; but he said he did not get to make that decision.

    Shockingly despite making that comment Cllr Levy stated that Liberal Democrat councillors would be giving weight to Biddle’s report on the grounds that his report was the one they commissioned. The lack of logic here was pointed out to Cllr Levy who bizarrely claimed that a court would expect councillors to follow advice they had commissioned.

    The council’s secrecy, and appearance of “conspiracy” in relation to tree works was mentioned; as was the omission of the campaign group’s report from the material circulated by the council to councillors during the initial, secret, stages of the current consultation.

    Campaigners suggested the council, particularly council officers, liked taking the safe option; the option which wouldn’t be criticised by auditor / ombudsman types and said the council lacked common sense and imagination.

    Cllr Levy stated the council could not afford and wanted to avoid court action.

    The council was criticised for not keeping those who’ve responded to previous stages of the consultation on these trees up to date with the current proposals and timeline.

    My own view is that there is a very strong case here that the trees are not a significant cause of any problems with movement in the house. I think defending this case might well in the long term save Cambridge, and other places, a large number of trees and a large amount of money. We need to move away from the idea that if any roots are present, or any trees are near-by then they are blamed for cracking or subsidence; there needs to be a new precedent set which will save urban trees such as these from the chainsaws and the Liberal Democrats running the city council should defend this claim. Currently the council has a very poor record on management of trees, the Liberal Democrats should see this as an opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of the electorate.

  6. Stephen Lintott

    I agree entirely with your statement defending this trees might well in the long term save Cambridge, and other places, a large number of trees and a large amount of money.
    This method of dealing with trees seems to be a standard response from The Lib Dem council e.g. Midsummer Common removed trees as they are not pleasing to the idea.
    I wonder what further action the campaigners plan on taking and what support would be helpful
    I will be the Green Party candidate for West Chesterton in May

  7. Bruria Shachar-Hill

    B. Shachar-Hill, resident and member of AG campaign group.
    Very good report and points made in this post Richard.
    The council are mainly concerned with following a process they devised for trees so they can appear to be considerate whilst disregarding the actual issue of preserving trees in general and heritage ones in this case.
    The felling of the oak on Midsummer Common in spite of a large protest is a good example where nothing but the plans of council officers caused this. The tree was not obstructive or dangerous it just did not ‘fit the plan’.
    The council is using threats from insurance companies and brokers instead of cotesting the case and establishing the right precedence.
    The government had just rescinded the forrest selling plan it’s time the council followed suit.
    All concerned should email the council and their councillors,please look at the information and template objection letter posted on the AG site http://www.alexandragardens.org/

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    This morning the council have taken the Alexandra Gardens trees item off the Agenda for the planning meeting on the 9th of March at which it had been scheduled to be discussed.

    Last time, when the item was withdrawn, people had to make new objections – original ones were not carried forward. It will be important to seek an assurance this does not happen again.

    The council has given no explanation for this further delay, this is the second time the matter has been scheduled to go before the planning committee and it hasn’t happened. They appear to be in complete disarray over this decision.

  9. Rosemary Jones

    The soil under the chesnut trees on Victoria Avenue needs clearing of miner moth larvae before they reinfect the leaves, either by a garlic application or just by removal. The Christmas lights’cable needs taking off the birch trees in Sussex Street as it is stapled to the trees and could infect them. There has been no meaningful consuitation on the felling of the landmark cedar tree on Sidney Street and the councillors are not commenting. The officers say that its roots are destroying the adjacent War Memorial but the roots are in another direction due to a stone slab preventing them. The tree’s branches could be pruned back from the roof of the War Memorial, the Memorial could be moved back further into the Holy Trinity churchyard to a quieter and less polluited place but the Council prefers not to pursue options which would save thet tree and has decided the tree is to be felled. The tree is the only greenery visible down Sidney Street for about 5 months of the year. The Council did not meaningfully consult – just some posters alongside all the more flamboyant ones. All complaints about this to the Diocese before 21.3.11: ian.blaney@1the sanctuary.com – the Church’s consultation process which may be found in the Guildhall. A letter to Councillor Cantril asking for a genuine consultation has so far had no response.
    Perhaps if more people tried ?

  10. kim einhorn

    it is heartbreaking to see that we in hampstead garden suburb nw11 (edf substation northway) are not the only victims of this ruthless attempt by companies working for loss adjusters and insurance companies namely infront innovation and marishal thompson to “strongly convince” councils into felling magnificent trees. The story is identical to yours. 150 year old oak trees.

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