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:
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:
- The retention of all of the trees and continued monitoring of the property;
- The retention of all of the trees, with tree management to the trees implicated opposite 13 Holland Street and continued monitoring of the property
- Tree management of all trees on Carlyle Road
- Tree management of trees at Carlyle Road on Alpha Road
- Tree management of all trees.
- 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:
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.
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.
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)
- Briefing Note to Councillors – 4th February 2011 – Contains recommendation and draft timetable for future consultation process.
- Appendix A to the Briefing Note – Report from GAB Robins – the council’s loss adjusters.
- Appendix B to the Briefing Note – Report by arboricultural expert Dr Biddle to GAB Robbins.
- Appendix C to the Briefing Note – Photographs illustrating the council’s proposed reduction of the trees.
- Appendix D to the Briefing Note – Photographs of trees on Maids Causeway – illustrating the likely effect of the proposed work.
- Resident’s report challenging Dr Biddle’s conclusions; and arguing there is no evidence the trees are causing subsidence.
I have written a number of previous articles which provide background:
- Felling of Mature London Plane Trees on Alexandra Gardens Proposed – 5th September 2010
- Information Released on Alexandra Gardens Trees. 4th October 2010
- Public Meeting on Alexandra Gardens Trees – 21 October 2010
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