St Matthew’s Piece Trees – STILL under threat!


Three magnificent trees on St Matthews’ Piece, along Sturton Street, are now at severe risk of being felled.

Alarmingly planning officers have recommended approval for the felling of these three trees.

This is wrong for so many reasons:

  • the Plane Trees are not the cause of “tree-related clay shrinkage subsidence”  at 193 Sturton Street
  • the consequences of felling these 3 trees are widespread and disastrous
  • the monetary value to Cambridge of the trees (based on the Council’s own CAVAT analysis) is more than double the financial cost of saving the trees by installing a root barrier 
  • no tree anywhere in Cambridge will now be safe if 125-year old, with Tree Protection Orders, rare mature trees, in a Conservation Area can be felled when a new-build property’s insurer demands it
  • it is seeming almost impossible to stop the inexorable march toward this loss.


The planning committee meets on Wednesday 2nd August 2023 at 10 am.

The time for formal objections is long past, so please email your views now to Planning Committee Members and other Councillors.

Scroll down for a pre-formatted email to all of the relevant councillors.


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.

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 submitted an 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. Fuller details can be found in our earlier post here: St Matthew’s Piece Trees (Again).

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.

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


Everybody will have good reasons of their own, to object. Please explain the importance of these trees to you. Here are some suggestions to which the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece have contributed.

  1. Felling of these three, rare, mature, 125-year old trees, subject to Tree Protection Orders will set a dangerous precedent; no tree anywhere in Cambridge will now be safe from a new-build property’s insurer’s demands.
  2. Councillors may wish to reflect upon the potential damage to the city’s reputation, were these three trees to be felled, when local, regional and national news media report upon the decision and the inevitable public protests. (News links below.)
  3. Compared to the 56 official parks in Cambridge’s other 13 wards, Petersfield ward has no other park than St Matthew’s Piece.
  4. Petersfield has a poor tree canopy, with very few mature trees.
  5. Every tree matters in Petersfield, which already suffers from the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’.
  6. These three Plane Trees all have Tree Preservation Orders, and are in Petersfield’s Conservation Area.
  7. Changes to a Conservation Area require public benefit to outweigh public harm.
  8. There will be no public benefit from felling any of these three trees – only massive public harm.
  9. These these trees are vital to every person who lives, works or studies in our community.
  10. The City Council’s tree experts stressed in 2006 the importance of preserving all the trees on St Matthew’s Piece, individually and as a group – trees that have only grown in importance since. 
  11. Data provided to show a ‘seasonal subsidence pattern’ instead contradict tree-related clay shrinkage.
  12. The data showing a doubling of ‘foundation movement’ in December 2022 appears to be highly selective.
  13. Leafless in winter, these deciduous trees take up almost no water so could not double the subsidence shown in December 2022. (Temperature chart, below.)
  14. The recommendations don’t consider the severe risk of ‘heave’ (soil swelling) on the basement level of the adjacent old Howard Mallett building – if these three trees are felled. (Map extract below.)
Reference notes on the above points.

Let’s hope that Cambridge will avoid being the next scandal-riven city in this sequence:

image as caption
Temperature chart for December 2022 graphing the bitterly cold weather and persistent snow. (13)
Source: Digital Technology Group – Cambridge Monthly Weather Graphs
image as caption
Howard Mallett building, showing proximity to the three trees (14)


Use the link below to generate an email

  • To: all members of the Planning Committee
  • Cc: Petersfield and Abbey Councillors plus ‘reserve’ members of the Planning Committee

Email our councillors here.


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). Friends of St Matthew’s Piece 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.

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2 Comments (Don't forget to scroll down to subscribe to website updates.)
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Charlotte de Blois
Charlotte de Blois
29 July 2023 08:15

Dear Planning Committee and Officers,

I strongly object to the felling of trees on St Matthews Piece. Petersfield Ward is unlucky enough to have 2 major roads (Mill Road and New Market Road) passing through it with few trees to absorb toxic fumes created by the traffic that those roads carry. To fell these trees is not in the public good.

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