Management of the Trees between Templemore Close and Holbrook Road


Friday, September 18th, 2009. 1:07am


Drastic crown reduction has taken place at one end of a previously magnificent line of trees between Templemore Close and Holbrook Road.

Drastic crown reduction has taken place at one end of a previously magnificent line of trees between Templemore Close and Holbrook Road.

Earlier today someone living near Glebe Road in Cambridge phoned me up to talk about tree works being carried out at the back of Templemore Close. Templemore Close is a small cul-de-sac of infill properties next to the Perse Pelican School on Glebe Road. At the back of the development there was a magnificent line of 23 silver leaf maple trees which were the dominant feature in the local landscape. “Crown reduction” work has recently been carried out on seven trees in the garden of 8 Templemore Close. This work has left what is left of those trees looking in a very sorry state and has resulted in the line of trees as whole having a very inconsistent appearance.

Timeline and Key Points:

  • 1989 – Outline application for residential development at 90/92 Glebe Road and Tree preservation order placed on trees at “80-90 and 92 Glebe Road and land to the rear”.
  • 18 August 2008 – Council officers place new tree preservation order on the trees: “to reflect the changed geographical position.” The trees had not moved, but Templemore Close had been built next to them so they had a new address. Personally I am not convinced this was a good reason to re-visit the order and wonder if there was another unmentioned underlying reason for the action.
  • January 2009 – Cambridge City Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer met Templemore Close residents and advised the trees should be considered as a unit.
  • February 2009 – Due to there being both objections and supporters of the new Tree Preservation Order the question of if the order ought be confirmed was put to Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee. On the 4th of February 2009 the committee consiting of councillors Baker (Chair), Blair (Vice Chair), Blencowe, Dixon, Hipkin, and Smart unanimously confirmed the tree preservation order.
  • 24th June 2009 – K Churchman had applied for permission to perform crown reductions of seven trees in the garden of 8 Templemore Close. The council’s planning committee of councillors Al Bander, Baker (Chair), Blair, Blencowe, Dryden, Hipkin, Reid, Stuart, and Zmura unanimously approved the proposals in the face of seven objections.
  • 22nd July 2009 – Mrs Bearcroft had applied for permission to crown reduce four trees in the garden of 4 Templemore Close. The planning committee of councillors Al Bander, Baker (Chair), Blair, Blencowe, Dixon, Dryden, and Stuart unanimously approved the proposals in the face of just one objection.
  • September 2009 – Work carried out on trees at 8 Templemore Close. Resident of 8 Templemore Close tells me that his neighbours, the owners of the other trees in the line, are planning further work.
  • UPDATESeptember 2009 – Work started on trees at 4 Templemore Close.

Papers for the city council’s planning committee, and the city council’s online “planning portal”, do not give any indication that permission to carry out tree works at 5, 6 and 7 Templemore Close has been sought. It is possible that officers have given advice in relative secret. I have written to the city council’s tree team to ask and will comment on this article if they respond. I accept it would be a nonsense for a further three separate applications to be put before the planning committee, but equally think there needs to be transparency and note the planning committee did has not yet given permission for works to the whole line of trees. (Procedurally I do not think there was anything stopping the council’s tree officers making an application for work on the remaining trees themselves; other than the fact we don’t have a culture of pro-activity in local government in this country. )

Problems With The System

  • Only very near neighbours of trees to be worked on are consulted and given an opportunity to object to works. It is hard for others, who may still live in sight of the trees or have another interest, to find out about proposals for tree works.
  • The decisions that have been made cannot easily be located. Not all local residents are aware that due process has in fact been followed, as it is too hard to verify this. (Calling me, while effective, shouldn’t be necessary!)
  • There is no mechanism for the council to take decisions on a line of trees like this together if they only receive applications from individuals to work on their own trees. As with things like building on streets like North Street and Salmon Lane, or decisions on if a certain type of extension ought be allowed on a particular group of properties, I think councillors should do more localised “tactical” planning.
  • As this TPO and subsequent applications have gone to three separate planning meetings this means objectors would have been expected to object three times and if they wished to speak attend to speak three times. I think there needs to be an ability to carry objections forward where appriopriate so that people don’t keep having to make the same points again and again.
  • Councillors making planing decisions are often reliant on biased expert advice, in this case they received a report from the tree surgeons – Eastern Tree Surgery – who I believe carried out the work. While here they also had the views of their own tree officers, on other matters such as structural safety of buildings they do not have independent expert advice to draw on.
  • Those who supported, and obtained, a Tree Preservation Order might rightly be very surprised that just a few months after confirming the TPO the same councillors then approved drastic works to the same trees. There appears to be an inconsistency there.

Interactive Map of the Area

Click on the symbols for more details. Use the controls to move and zoom the map.

View on Google Maps

At the time of writing the aerial photo available on Google Maps shows the full line of trees before the work commenced. The report on the trees to Cambridge City Council’s planning committee on the 24th of June 2009 stated:

The trees are approximately 23m high with a canopy spread of approximately 6 – 9 metres. The trees appear to be in good physiological condition, they have full crowns, which are well-covered in foliage and the annual extension growth is normal for the age and species of the trees. The leaves are green, healthy and normal size.

On the other hand the report to the 4th of February meeting stated:

Silver maple are relatively quick growing, short-lived species, as a result the timber is prone to
disease and decay.

and also said:

The trees are probably 60 –80 years old and are mature plants; in normal conditions in an urban environment they could be expected to live for 120-150 years, in this instance it is unlikely to exceed 20-40 years.

This links to the situation on Lammas land where a council tree officer justifying the felling of young sliver maples there said all silver maples would succumb to structural problems eventually.


View of the tree works from Holbrook Road.

View of the tree works from Holbrook Road.

One point in the objections which stood out to me was made by an objector who commented that a percentage reduction in the crown was hard to visualise and verify. It was suggested that consultation documents ought indicate the height to be lost from trees, as this is an easier quantity to deal with and check. Where trees are being reduced in height I think that is a very good idea.

When I spoke to the resident of 8 Templemore Close he said his view was that the trees were nearing the end of their life, and he felt he had a duty to his neighbours on Holbrook Road to keep them in a safe state. He said that some people in Templemore Close want the trees felled completely suggesting his position was actually relatively moderate. He stressed that due process had been followed, and the application had been to the planning committee at which an objector (named by the minutes as “Lois Arnold”) had spoken for their allotted three minutes. He also said that Cllr Alan Baker had been out to look at the site.

At least one of those favouring the work put forward the argument that what happens to these trees is no business of the council (ie. the wider community) and ought just be a matter for the property owners. Generally I am hugely in favour of strong property rights, I dislike necessary state interference in people’s lives; but in this case I think that the involvement of the planning process is entirely appriopriate. The trees in question are all interdependent and part of one contagious feature but they are under within five different properties. The trees are of value to those living in a wide area, as well as to some extent the city as a whole. I think it is entirely right that decisions such as if work can be carried out on these trees ought be taken by elected councillors.

When considering the later application for works to the rear of 4 Templemore Close in July councillors added a “recommendation” to their approval stating: “The Council recommends:

  • the implications of this work be considered on the trees immediately adjacent.
  • that a long term management plan should be prepared for the tree belt.
  • The trees should be regularly inspectioned[sic] and a record of those inspections retained. This is in line with current good practice and in accordance with responsible management.

For some reason the councillors did not make the preparation of a management plan a legally enforceable “condition” of the permission, they left it as an informal recommendation.

Direct Links to the Key Documents

My View on the Trees

There have been significant problems of communication and of process here. I would have liked to see the whole row of trees dealt with as one block from the time of the initial application for works at 8 Templemore Close. The proposals, and subsequent decision, were not clearly communicated.

I think the tree works have been a little on the drastic side, but I am mindful that often trees look worst just after work has been done, and in a couple of years time the trees might well adopt a more natural shape. The council’s tree officers have said they anticipate vigourous regrowth of the crowns. The potential for inconsistent work on different trees will though, if that is what is to occur, create an additional, unnecessary, loss of value to the area.

It appears that the owners, the council tree officers, and councillors all agreed that there was an urgent safety case for carrying out works. The council officers’ report to the June planning committee meeting which considered the trees at 8 Templemore Close stated:

The officers conclude the proposed crown reduction is an appropriate and reasonable response to the condition of the trees. If the work is not undertaken the trees are likely to fail. Where the cavities are in the upper crown the branches are likely to collapse at the seat of decay because the timber will have disintegrated and will be unable to support the loading above. This is likely to occur within five years and could happen in gales this winter.

What is conspicuously absent though from the report, other than in comments from objectors, is the effect of these trees on overshadowing the houses and gardens of Templemore Close. While the argument for works is being made on the basis of safety considerations I feel it is highly likely that Templemore Close residents with relatively small gardens overshadowed by these huge trees might well be seeking more light. As they did not make this argument, and given they bought their houses knowing the protected trees were there, I strongly feel any work ought to have been limited to that which was required for safety reasons.

I am a pragmatist and fully in favour of tree works, and even tree felling, when absolutely necessary, I think that where possible trees ought to be felled in a controlled manner before they fail where we are reasonably sure failure is imminent.

Templemore Close – Why Private Roads are Undesirable in a City

While there are no signs to indicate it, I was told by the resident of 8 Templemore Close that it was a private road from the point at which the surfaces changes in the hammerhead turning bay. He stated that I had been trespassing by cycling further into the road. He even claimed I was still trespassing by walking over to speak to him outside his house when he had clearly come out to talk to me, a clear implied invite (as would a letter box, had I been delivering leaflets). He asked me to remove his house from any pictures which I published. While I have not done this I have decided not to publish any photos taken from within the area he identified to me as being private.

When said I was researching an article for my website on the trees he warned me that the Cambridge Evening News had “got into trouble” for writing about Templemore Close and suggesting it was the most expensive place to live in Cambridge. He told me that a “high powered London lawyer” lived at 7 Templemore Close and told me I ought be afraid of him if I was to write about the road and publish pictures of it. In response to this I asked if Google Street View had visited the road, he said it had, but that Google had taken down its images of the road following complaints by residents. I can find no evidence online of a Cambridge News article mentioning Templemore Close so perhaps it pre-dated the online edition or it may even have been removed following legal pressure! Google Street View does not cover the vast majority of the close.

House Prices in Templemore Close

Obviously the comments made to me when I visited the site prompted me to look up some property prices. The following are extracted from Houseprices.co.uk’s page on Templemore Close which contains data obtained from the land registry:

  • No. 8 Templemore Close was sold for £730,000 on 15/06/2001
  • No. 11 Templemore Close was sold for £699,995 on 16/05/2008
  • No. 1 Templemore Close was sold for £1,060,000 on 22/02/2008
  • No. 4 Templemore Close was sold for £710,000 on 12/02/2004

Personally I don’t see the attraction of the location; but each to their own!

Adopting Roads on New Developments

I think that roads on new developments ought be adopted by the county council, I think that private roads set in store problems for future residents and for the wider city. I have written about the situation at Thrifts Walk where despite it being a private road councillors were somehow persuaded to use public money to do it up. Private roads also confuse the police and cause enormous problems as in the case of the postman seriously mauled by a dog on Gazeley Lane.

There are areas where the council is slow to adopt roads; there have recently been problems in Arbury Park with a lack of street lighting and poor curbs. Looking back on my photographs of Templemore Close it appears that it doesn’t have streetlights either, a feature in common with other newly built smaller developments in the city where roads have remained private. (While smaller, the unlit new development off Cavendish Road by its junction with Mill Road is another area where street lights would be desirable.) I would certainly not want to see any more gated streets / gated communities in the city and notice that Templemore Close already has what look like they could be parts of gate posts.

11 comments/updates on “Management of the Trees between Templemore Close and Holbrook Road

  1. Brian Johnson

    The Google Maps view isn’t very informative, but if people use Bing Maps (from Microsoft) they can get a view which might put your excellent text into context.

    Here is a link to a view of Templemore Close showing how the trees do indeed overshadow the occupants’ gardens: http://www.bing.com/maps/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=spx6w8h0bt6d&style=b&lvl=2&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&scene=4261533&encType=1

    Shortened, that link is http://is.gd/3p0O8

    From there, the viewer can zoom and rotate their view around to focus in on Templemore Close from all directions. (Although, oddly, the photograph looking north sometimes appears to be mainly green.)

    I hope I haven’t offended any high-powered lawyers by posting links to these pictures.

  2. Wendy Knowles

    I have just read your excellent blog and comments. Drive down Holbrook Road and take a look at the line of trees. They look far worse from this side. How can this have been allowed! The Eastern Tree Compnay were retained by the owners of Templemore Close to support their application for felling the trees and to give ‘impartial advice’ to the tree officer. They are the company now carrying out the felling, with a large team, that has already been at the site for several days. Surely there is a serious conflict of interest.

  3. Richard Article author

    Chris Tweed, the City Council tree team’s administrator has written to me to say:

    We have not received any tree works applications from 5, 6 or 7 Templemore Close.

    He added:

    The Tree Team will check the work undertaken, if it is reported that the tree surgeons have exceeded their consent.

  4. Ann Harris

    If you are going to post information through people’s doors in order to get them to comment on the tree situation, you really need to make sure your website address is printed correctly. Who is RW Taylor I wonder?

  5. Richard Article author

    Just to clarify that I personally didn’t post any copies of my article through letterboxes in the area. If someone else has – this isn’t the first time that’s happened.

    It shows that if information is available on the web it can get out to those who don’t use the web themselves.

  6. David Vincent

    It is sad that the “most expensive street in Cambridge” (and this does seem to be true – although they might baulk at the word ‘street’) appears so architecturally undistinguished. Of course, given the attitude of the resident ar number 8, this could even have been a deliberate tactic to ensure no-one might ever want to look at the houses. I assume proximity to the hospital may be an attraction for some owners (at least one of whom works there), but I am not sure why “high-powered” London lawyers would want to live in an expensive Cambridge cul-de-sac (I say London lawyers, since the owner of number 11 seems to be another one – unless the resident to whom Richard spoke simply got the address of his neighbour wrong). From the result of the work that has been carried out, one wonders what evidence the Council’s officers had for the view in their report that the residents of the Close appreciated the amenity value of the trees of which their money makes them the temporary custodians?

  7. Chris Cole

    Chris Cole
    Partner
    Eastern Tree Surgery

    I have just had the misfortune of being made aware of your article regarding the management of the trees to the rear of Templemore Close.

    Despite the fact that some of your readers regard your article as “excellent text”, it is littered with comments and statements that demonstrate an embarrassing lack of arboricultural knowledge on your behalf, and an evident deep rooted sinicism of local authority practices.

    I could write at great length illustrating this evident lack of knowledge, but I simply do not have the amount of spare time that you and your readers appear to have. I will however make the following points;

    Having read your CV from your home page I realise that you are clearly a very educated man. However I was interested by the complete absence of any arboricultural qualifications, experience, or technical expertise. Surely for you to be able to make confrontational and negative comments, such as you have, on the reasons behind arboricultural works such as these, you must possess at least some form of the above? Please enlighten me if the facts are to the contrary.

    We, as Eastern Tree Surgery (see http://www.easterntreesurgery.com), are a well respected, fourth generation company that have been practising arboricultural contracting and consultancy in and around the city of Cambridge for over 40 years. As well as decades of experience we hold numerous academic and professional qualifications in arboriculture.

    We have been listed in the Arboricultural Association’s Approved Contractors scheme since 1987. The Arboricultural Association (see http://www.trees.org.uk) is one of the countries premier bodies dedicated to the promotion of excellence in tree work and customer care.

    The trees under discussion in your article have been inspected in detail by ourselves, and many have been found to contain serious structural defects. Trees are dynamic, living organisms and, just as both human and animal life, are subject to change, ill health, weakness and death. Despite the fact that everybody would like individual trees to last forever it is both naïve and ignorant to assume that they will, or that they should be retained at any cost.

    There comes a point, especially in residential areas such as this, where there must be a compromise between the safe retention of a tree and the retention of a tree in its maiden, unaltered form. In this instance, and for the time being at least, it has been possible to retain the trees, but in a reduced form. Despite the apparent disgust at these recommended works, I rather suspect that you and your readers would have slightly differing opinions were you the ones residing in properties at the foot of structurally impaired trees of this size.

    You state that you are “a pragmatist in favour of tree works when absolutely necessary” and “where we are reasonably sure failure is imminent”. As you so evidently doubt the knowledge of ourselves and the city tree officers, I am left wondering whose opinion you and your readers would be satisfied with? As the author of the arboricultural reports produced on these trees, I am indeed very sure that some form of structural failure is relatively (given the expected life span of the trees) imminent if the trees are left in their current form.

    Your article states that council officers are often reliant on “biased expert advice”, and that “in this case they received a report from Eastern Tree Surgery”. Are you implying falsification on our part for monetary gain?? I would think that this is unlikely from a man as apparently articulate as yourself, so I would be grateful if you would please take the time to clarify this statement. At present your article is inferring a distinct absence of professionalism on our behalf and, as I’m sure you are very aware, this could be potentially very damaging to our company and to future business.

    In response to the comments from your reader Wendy Knowles, Eastern Tree Surgery were indeed retained by the owners of Templemore Close to provide arboricultural reports on the condition of their trees. We have also been asked to carry out the works recommended therein by at least two of the owners. The implication that there is a “serious conflict of interest” somewhat belittles the mental capacity of the owners to request quotations for the recommended works from other contracting companies.

    The comments from yourself and Wendy Knowles seriously undermine the qualifications and technical expertise that the vast majority of council tree officers hold. I suspect that in actual fact the arboricultural knowledge and understanding of the city tree officers is far greater than yours or anybody else that has chosen to write such negative comments up to this point.

    I will be in Templemore Close on Monday 21st September carrying out further tree surgery works to some of the trees in question. Should you have any wish to produce a positive, factual article, based on some real arboricultural knowledge, then please present yourself to me to discuss the matter further.

    Although I have only made comments regarding this article, I have read other tree related articles from your page, and I am appalled at the abhorrent misinformation that you seem so intent on circulating. I respect the fact that people are passionate about trees, as indeed we are, and that everybody has the right to an opinion. However I really do feel that if you are going to write such negative, factually incorrect and contradictory articles then maybe you should obtain some recognised arboricultural qualifications to back up your claims.

    Your CV states that you are a strong supporter of democracy, and therefore I will be very disappointed were you to decide to remove my comments from your article.

  8. Richard Article author

    Mr Cole,

    Many thanks for your comments which add greatly to the value of this article, there is certainly no risk of me removing them. The reason I allow comments on my articles is to provide a forum for debate.

    My aims here have been to highlight some problems with the system of determining tree works applications in the city, and problems communicating what is happening to those who are interested. Where I stated “that council officers are often reliant on “biased expert advice”; I am not at all being critical of your report on the trees, merely pointing out it yours is not impartial advice on the grounds that it was, as you have confirmed in your comment, funded by the owners of properties on Templemore Close. It was a report submitted in support of an application to carry out tree works. I pointed out this kind of conflict of interest occurs in respect of other decisions too where councillors rely on technical reports provided by applicants. I am aware that residents have been assured by councillors that your report was only given an appropriate degree of weight in consideration of the decisions.

    The conflict of interest raised by Wendy Knowles is a slightly different one: that you as the company both advising on what needs to be done as well as the company carrying out the work have an apparent commercial incentive to recommend doing as much work as possible. You have addressed this by suggesting that in fact the owners were free to commission the physical work from other companies after receiving your report. This isn’t the point I raised personally; but it is one I am prepared to republish for the purpose of debate.

    To suggest that the only people who ought comment on tree works in the city are those with relevant qualifications is in my view ridiculous. The decisions on tree works are made by democratically elected councillors; of course their decisions ought be informed by expert view points, but they are not themselves generally experts in tree works or any other the other specialist areas in which they take decisions on behalf of residents. It is entirely reasonable for anyone to do what I have done and read the advice they made their decision on and come to their own viewpoint. I would suggest it is necessary to do that kind of thing to assess councillors’ performance and it is a useful exercise to inform decisions on which way to vote at the next election. There is no requirement for any qualification before casting a vote in an election.

    One of the major problems with respect to these works has been a lack of communication and awareness of the facts. I hope that my article, and the links it provides, have made the situation clearer. It is now much easier for anyone interested to confirm that due process has been followed and to come to their own conclusions on the basis of the evidence provided.

    One question I would be particularly interested in putting to you, and Eastern Tree Surgery, is if, when determining what work you felt was required, there was any consideration given to improving the amount of light available to the houses in Templemore Close or improving the environment of those houses’ gardens. I think it is an obvious concern that to some extent these works might have taken that into account in addition to the safety and good tree management related considerations. When reading and commenting on reports such as the documents relating to these tree works I think it is entirely reasonable to comment on omissions as well as what is actually written within them.

  9. Richard Article author

    I was in the area again today. Work has now been undertaken behind No.4 Templemore Close. The line of trees has now gained the “gap tooth” appearance predicted by objectors.

    It would be interesting to find out if this is due to poor co-ordination and planning arising from the fact the trees are under different ownership; or if it is down to a safety argument. Perhaps some property owners are taking a different view on the risks than others?

    Gap tooth appearance of trees at Templemore Close

    Gap tooth appearance of trees at Templemore Close

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