Suggesting Tweaks to Midsummer Common Tree Plans

Thursday, September 30th, 2010. 1:43am

Current plans are for three black poplars are to be planted in the middle of the grass a hundred metres or so into the common. I think this wedge of open grass should be left as it multiplies the sense of space.

Current plans include planting three black poplars in the middle of the grass a hundred metres or so into the common from the point this photo was taken. I think this wedge of open grass should be left as it multiplies the sense of space.

I spoke at the special meeting of the West Central Area committee discussing the proposed tree works on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common on the 23rd of September 2010. I said:

There are some aspects of the proposals you are considering this evening which I would like to see you amend.

Or, if you are not going to amend them, explain why you are going against some of the consultation responses.

Incursion into the Open Space

The first is the incursion into the central open space of Midsummer Common. The proposals show trees to be planted further into the central area than we currently have trees both on Butt Green and in the triangle of open space down towards the Cutter Ferry bridge. I think the large open expanse of the common, particularly given its city centre location which gives it its special character and value.

I propose moving the three black poplar trees proposed for the middle of the green space closer to the cutter ferry bridge; and to use those instead of the proposed willow as a replacement for the substantial lime that was by the bridge which Cllr Smith felled last year.

I think that both at the confluence of paths by the Cutter Ferry bridge, and on Butt Green vision for cyclists ought be taken into account. I think this could be improved by removing a couple of the proposed trees from near the junction of the paths on Butt Green, and I think the black poplar, set back, would be easier to see round than the proposed willow.

Excessive Use of One Species

Sixteen silver weeping limes are proposed for the south side of the common from Butt Green down to the Brunswick development. While these are majestic trees which obviously, from the examples we have in the area, thrive in Cambridge I would like to see more variation in the species planted. How about some more oaks, poplars, planes, and maybe a sycamore.
By planting lots of the same species of tree we are risking a disease or infestation which might affect them all in the future. We are also changing the character of the common which currently has very mixed planting.


In the proposals for both the riverside and the south of the common what we appear to be seeing is the council’s principle tree officer’s stated desire for strong lines of the same species having undue influence over the proposals. I do not think the consultation response shows a desire for lines of the same tree species on the common.

Cllr Smith has already more than decimated the riverside of Midsummer Common; that’s the starting point. I urge you not to start these works with yet more felling in that area. I don’t think having the odd poplar and some different willow species left among the new planting is a problem.


I am disappointed at the delays to the final decision which have been announced this evening. I would have liked to see you give the go-ahead to at least some of the planting tonight. Why did you not start following the council’s tree protocol earlier? In the next couple of weeks you’re going to put notices on the trees to be felled and around Jesus Green and Midsummer Common for the first time; you could have done this well before now.

Cllr Cantrill appears to have dropped a number of the good ideas which his predecessor Cllr Smith had set underway. One of these is the proposed city wide tree strategy meeting which it had previously been promised would occur prior to the new planting on Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and New Square. This meeting was to discuss questions such as if the trees being planted in the city should reflect changes to the climate, and how large new trees ought be at the point they’re planted .

[Cllr Cantrill interrupted to say no such meeting had been promised]

I suggest you ask your colleagues to bring you up to speed. I’m not the only one asking what has happened to this proposal. Antony Bowen asked when it would be held at the last West/Central area committee, and in your absence none of the councillors could answer.

[Cllr Cantrill said he had recently spoken to Mr Bowen and he had not raised this point. The meeting's chair asked me to continue, and to address the proposed tree works.]

I will make a couple of final brief points.

The consultation did not clearly differentiate between the immediate proposals for this autumn/winter and the longer term strategy. I think this causes some of the alarm and negative press as people thought, for example, the cherry tree avenue was under imminent threat. I think the consultation responses should be interpreted with that in mind.

I urge you to make a complete decision here tonight and not to delegate the details to residents of particular areas, or to Mr Baxter. I think you’ve got to take the views of all those interested into account and not give undue weight to particular groups.

[The meeting's chair said that making a decision was what they were here to do.]

There are lots of great elements in the plans, a number of aspects of replanting are, not as your officers have just told you part of routine maintenance which would have been done anyway but things which have been waiting many years for action, such as filling in the gaps in the plane tree avenue on Jesus Green.

You’ve promised new planting in your manifesto, Cllr Cantrill promised it at the workshop, can you please get on with it.


My concern about incursion into the open space of the common was dismissed by the council’s tree officer Diana Oviatt-Ham. She said that the areas where new planting is proposed are not required for events. My argument that the areas ought be left open was not based on events’ requirements though; so I felt she had not addressed what I said.

Cllr Kightley said that the proposal to move the black poplars appeared to be a sound suggestion. Diana Oviatt-Ham disagreed saying that three ilia cordata (Small-leaved Limes) slightly further away from the river bank would do the job of replacing the felled Lime by the cutter ferry bridge. I think this is reasonable, but would still rather the black poplars were not placed in the middle of the grass.

Oviatt-Ham said that the intention of using the poplars was to provide height to the line of trees along the river, so the line of the river was marked from a distance. I think this could be achieved with the trees planted closer to the river and out of the middle of the open space, leaving the view shown in the picture above open.

Cllr Rosenstiel took up the point of incursion on Butt Green; he said he was particularly unhappy about the two trees closest to the crossing of the paths, and actually proposed an amendment, which was defeated, to delete all six new silver weeping limes proposed along the paths of Butt Green from the plans.

Councillors didn’t discuss starting with yet more felling along the riverside, pointing me, and others’ expressing concerns to the option to object under the tree protocol.

When it came to the voting, no mention was made of the planting towards the centre of the common near the Cutter Ferry bridge. Cllr Kightley, who was chairing the meeting, and who had sounded as if he might vote against the central planting queried which vote had included support for the black poplars in the middle of the grass. Cllr Cantrill decreed that it had been included in Area B – the riverside and no councillors challenged this.

Further Images

The consultation plan showed no proposals to plant in the central area of the common in the wedge down to the Cutter Ferry Bridge:
Clear central area

Officer’s proposals to the West/Central Area committee show three black poplars (Poplus nigra) in the middle of the grass:
Triangle of Black poplars

See Also

One comment/update on “Suggesting Tweaks to Midsummer Common Tree Plans

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    The final plans now show 7 trees originally proposed to be planted in the triangle of open space towards the bridge have been removed from the plans.

    While councillors didn’t appear to take my primary concern into account at the public meeting; during the secret machinations which have taken place since then councillors appear to have agreed with me and massively reduced the incursion of planting into this triangle of open grass.

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