While Cambridge City Council were considering their recent tree works on Midsummer Common one of the suggestions I made was that the sense of large open space in the centre of the city ought be kept. I argued against encroaching too much on the common’s central open space with new tree planting, and in particular argued for keeping the triangle of open grass down towards the cutter ferry bridge free of trees.
I made this argument at a number of points during the various consultations, and in person at the special West-Central Area Committee on the 23rd of September 2010. When it came to the vote on the tree planting in the triangle towards the cutter ferry bridge there was, as there so often is at City Council meetings, confusion. The meeting’s chair, Cllr Simon Kightley, was about to call for a debate and vote on the proposals; but was overruled by the Executive councillor responsible for the city’s green spaces, Cllr Cantrill, who angrily decreed that the planting had already been approved when councillors voted on tree-works along the riverside. Cllr Cantrill maintained this despite his colleagues pointing out to him that the planting in question was outside the shaded area, “area B” which had been the subject of the earlier vote.
A protracted farce followed the September 2010 meeting. Changes were made to the plans in secret, plans were put to the planning committee which was told they were as-approved by the West-Central area committee when they weren’t (I attended and spoke at the planning meeting to make highlight this). Changes were consulted on, in secret, with a small group of near neighbours. Many people, including me, urged the council to operate in an open, transparent and inclusive manner but this was ignored. The only concession obtained was a Friends of Midsummer Common representative was to be allowed to observe a meeting between the council and the selected consultees.
At a meeting of the West Central Area Committee on the 6th of January 2011 both I and the Friends of Midsummer Common submitted public questions asking for an update as to what the current plans for the tree works were. Cllr Kightley tried to dismiss the questions, claiming that the final proposed plans had been published; they hadn’t been, and only heckles from 5-10 members of the public complaining about this and telling Cllr Kightley he was wrong forced a response and a commitment to publish the plans. At the meeting it was explained that plans had been modified following the outcome of the consultation with the selected near neighbours, and that these modifications had been approved by Cllr Kightley as chair of the West Central Area Committee, Cllrs Rosenstiel and Bick as ward councillors (Cllr Dixon reportedly abstained), and by Cllr Cantrill as the Executive Councillor responsible. Cllr Rosenstiel attempted to recall, and describe, what exactly had changed but was unable to do so with the clarity which a plan would have provided.
The plans were eventually placed online shortly before the 24th February 2011 meeting of the West Central Area committee, by this point almost all the work had been completed. When they were released the plans showed that seven or so trees which were to be planted in the triangle towards the bridge had been removed, or moved. What I had been calling for had almost entirely happened with the exception of on black poplar, which was to be planted, alone, right in the middle of the green space (South of the two established riverside willows which are set back into the middle of the common). At the meeting Cllr Cantrill, prompted by a public question from the Friends of Midsummer Common, stated that work was complete and all that was left was the removal of items left on the common by those doing the work.
At the 24th February 2011 meeting I questioned Cllr Cantrill on the remaining tree, a black poplar, marked as to be “relocated”. I suggested that now the decision had been made not to plant any other trees in the area this one would be left on its own, right in the middle. I urged him to reconsider, and perhaps move the tree slightly closer to the river than shown on the plans. (The existing trees are not very accurately placed on the plans anyway and one could easily claim such a move was within the plan’s margin of error; one of the pair of black poplars planted to mark the place the central path on the common departs from the riverside has been planted well away from its proposed location already). Cllr Cantrill responded to say that while he had been following the work, he wasn’t able to give an update in respect of the specific tree I mentioned. He did say that a number of trees had been lying on the common for quite a while and therefore their viability for re-planting was in question. One of these is presumably the tree in question. Cllr Cantrill committed to look into the current position and get back to me.
While I am glad this open approach to the main central area of Midsummer Common has has been maintained; I would have preferred the decisions related to it to have been made through an open and transparent process. I made this point while asking my question at the 24th February West Central Area committee. Even if Cllr Cantrill goes ahead with the planting of the one tree in the middle, the removal of the others proposed from the plans will ensure the vista remains. In my view solitary trees in the middle of a grazed landscape often end up majestic specimens, uninfluenced by anything around them.
The uprooted trees which were lying on the common for an extended period over the winter have now been removed; and no tree has been planted yet in the wedge of open space. I am yet to hear anything from Cllr Cantrill following my question.
A meeting of the Friends of Midsummer Common is to be held in the Wesley Church, Christ’s Pieces at 19.30 on the 16th of March 2011. It is currently being advertised as open to only members of the friends and their guests. I have asked Mr Baxter, chairman of the friends, for an invite and suggested opening the meeting to the public as has been the case in previous years.