St Matthew’s Piece Trees (Again)

Under threat… Again!

Another guest post from Valerie Neal, a Friend of St Matthew’s Piece
Aerial image of St Matthew’s Piece showing, on the western edge, the three trees, subject of this planning application.
The three trees under threat


An insurance claim at 193 Sturton Street (a new-build approx 25 year old property) blames clay shrinkage subsidence on three 125-year-old trees. A planning application has been submitted for the felling of these three trees.


Objections from members of the public are urgently needed. Objections must be submitted as ‘Comments’ via Planning Application 23/0119/TTPO on the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Portal. (Requires registration.)

Objections would be most helpful by Monday 20th February, but will be accepted after that date.

Scroll down for possible grounds to use in your objection.


Last summer, Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee refused permission for these three precious trees to be severely cut back in both height and spread. The harm to the trees was judged not to be justified by the evidence. More information was required. (More here in this earlier post: St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Under Threat. Especially useful are the soil moisture deficit graphs.)

Instead: the applicant has now submitted a new application (23/0119/TTPO) to fell the three trees (or to install a ‘root barrier’ along part of Sturton Street). Their scanty documents fail to address even the reasons for refusal last summer. 

However, this time, the applicant has also given a bit of information on an alternative to felling or pruning, namely a ‘root barrier’. They have shown one aerial photo for the possible location of a root barrier and obtained one quote for the cost of delivering this. See pp. 10-11 of the applicant’s Addendum Report On A Subsidence Claim Arboricultural Recommendations under the ‘Documents’ tab for 23/0119/TTPO on the Planning Portal.


Everybody will have good reasons of their own, but here are some suggestions from the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece:

  1. The only official park in the Petersfield ward is St Matthew’s Piece, compared to 56 official parks in Cambridge’s 13 other wards.
  2. Petersfield has a particularly poor tree canopy, with very few mature trees.
  3. All trees matter in Petersfield, which suffers badly from the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’.
  4. Each of these 125-year-old Plane Trees has a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), and is in our Conservation Area.
  5. Changes to a Conservation Area require public benefit to outweigh public harm – but there would be zero public benefit from felling these three trees, only massive public harm.
  6. These trees are vital to the wellbeing of every person who lives, works or studies in our community.
  7. The applicant has not shown what harm now exists at the property… and completely failed to demonstrate how the “slight” cracks previously reported are due to the trees – rather than poor foundations, shoddy construction or “thermal movement” in the modern brickwork.
  8. If the applicant is convinced that the trees are harming the property, then the Planning Committee could permit them to install a good-quality root barrier, if done without significantly harming the trees.
  9. The applicant (or owner of the property) must pay for the root barrier. Due diligence required them to take into account trees that had been present for 100 years before this property was constructed.
  10. BS5837:1991 (applicable at the time of construction of 193 Sturton Street) described the then British Standards on trees and construction.
  11. The relevant National House Building Council standards document (section 4.2 Building near trees 4.2.7 Foundations in shrinkable soils) is illustrated below.
    Note the NHBC advice: Root barriers are not an acceptable alternative to the guidance given.
  12. The majority of the ‘Standard References’  listed on p.12 of the applicant’s Addendum Report On A Subsidence Claim Arboricultural Recommendations were already published before the construction of 193 Sturton Street, so should have been taken into account.
  13. Felling these trees would breach Cambridge Local Plan (2018) Policies 14, 23, 55, 56, 61, 67 & 71 as well as National Planning Policy Framework ¶91abc, ¶92abc and ¶96, as outlined in greater detail in the parallel Objection prepared by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.
  14. In 2006, 2007 & 2008, the City Council’s own tree expert repeatedly stressed (in connection with Planning Application 06/0567/FUL Erection of a community innovation centre (refused) the importance of preserving all the trees of St Matthew’s Piece, both individually and as a group – and these trees have only grown in importance since then.
Extract from National House Building Council standards document
4.2 Building near trees
4.2.7 Foundations in shrinkable soils
The sentence: "Root barriers are not an acceptable alternative to the guidance given." is highlighted by the present author.
Click the image to read the National House Building Council standards document section
4.2 Building near trees
4.2.7 Foundations in shrinkable soils


Objection to 22/0271/TTPO – from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece
22 March 2022
(Report against the planning application stopped in July 2022)

Trees of St Matthew’s Piece and Appendix II Input from Heritage Advisors (Both from the report against a planning application stopped in March 2021.)

2.5 minute video on what that threat had been 


To be kept up to date, please email Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, and ask to be added to the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece Supporter’s List. You will be led through a data-collection-compliant sign-up process. This will make sure you receive very occasional email updates on issues like this one.

Local residents have been fighting to protect and conserve local amenity and environmental assets via Friends of St Matthew’s Piece since 30thApril 2020 – and, before that, via Petersfield Area Community Trust, since 1998). We stand on the shoulders of the giants who, 100 years earlier, in 1898 had established St Matthew’s Piece. This included planting the magnificent London Plane trees that provide all of us with such wonderful benefits today. Read more on the history of St Matthew’s Piece, on the St Matthew’s Piece Timeline 1890–2020.

If you would like to join Friends of St Matthew’s Piece or assist in any of the issues raised in this blogpost, kindly hosted by Mill Road Bridges, please email Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

Notify me when

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments (Don't forget to scroll down to subscribe to website updates.)
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Comments welcome...x