St Matthew’s Piece Trees – The Final Frontier?



Photo of the three threatened trees on St Matthew’s Piece

On Wednesday 1st November 2023, the fate of the three threatened trees on St Matthew’s Piece is the first item of real business at Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee. 10am, Guildhall.

The Planning Committee is open to the public. Please attend the meeting, and encourage others to attend.


An insurance company is demanding that these 125-year-old trees be felled. They are acting for the absentee landlord of 193 Sturton Street, a neglected HMO (house in multiple occupancy) built 100 years after these trees were planted.

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece has strongly challenged the submitted evidence that the trees (rather than e.g., shoddy construction) are the cause of any damage to the house – Objection to 23/0119/TTPO – from the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece and Supplementary Objection to 23/0119/TTPO – from the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece (Click to open in Google Docs.)

Many hundreds of objections have been written by local residents directly to Councillors, as well as formally to the Council.


On Tuesday 1st Aug 2023, at 21:21, hours ahead of the Cambridge City Council Planning Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday 2nd August 2023, the item was removed from the agenda. Campaigners received an email in the name of the three city councillors for the Petersfield ward.

Thank you for your email expressing concern and objecting to the felling of these trees. The three of us, the city ward councillors for Petersfield, are very pleased to be able to tell you that the planning application seeking to have the trees felled is being taken off the agenda for the meeting of the Planning Committee tomorrow.

Working together with the Friends of St Matthew’s Pieces we were able to raise more and more technical and legal issues that had not been considered, at least not sufficiently. It became clear that the Committee would not have enough information to assess properly the application and it would have to be deferred pending consideration of the whole matter and especially the new information and questions being raised.

It should not be assumed that this is the end of the matter though. Unless the applicant withdraws the application it will come back to a further meeting of the Planning Committee. We will continue to work hard to get full recognition of the importance of the 3 trees and the importance of not setting a precedent which might endanger further trees.

Apologies that this is not an individual response to your email but there have been so many objectors and we want to give you the news as soon as possible. Thanks again for your contribution to the issue.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Cllr Richard Robertson and Cllr Mike Davey


The latest report to Cambridge City Council Planning Committee (Presenting Officer Joanna Davies) appears to weight the arguments in favour of removal of these three 100+ year-old trees.

Image of front page of
Report to Cambridge City Council Planning Committee
Presenting Officer Joanna Davies
Report to Cambridge City Council Planning Committee (Presenting Officer Joanna Davies)
Click the image to view/download the 32-page PDF

Mike, a key Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporter read the Officer’s Report and concluded: 

“…while on its face it gives the decision to the council members (who, after all, are responsible for the decision), it appears to me to be weighted against refusal of consent. While amenity is recognised, it is immediately undermined… If I were a disinterested council member, I would read the document as telling me that the costs and risks involved in refusing consent clearly outweigh amenity etc… that is how I read it.”. 

These attitudes must be overcome to save these trees.


Residents (rightly) have strong feelings about preserving the beauty, the majesty and the amenity of mature trees. How has it played out elsewhere? Will St Matthew’s Piece be another Alexandra Gardens? Or another Sheffield? Or Plymouth? Are the Cambridge City Council Planning Committee members soon to be ex-councillors?

Cambridge: 24/7 watch?

Local residents may recall the long-running dispute about the trees at Alexandra Gardens Residents set up 24/7 watch over Alexandra Gardens trees in Cambridge to ‘keep chainsaws at bay’ [Mike Scialom – Cambridge Independent – 06 August 2021]

Sheffield: direct action, security guards, assaults, arrests?

A programme of felling of street trees continued for two years, leading to horrendous reputational damage, to the city and the city council with widespread coverage in national news media. Only after the ruling party on Sheffield City Council (Labour) lost a number of seats in the local election, did talks start with protesters.

Chainsaws, disguises and toxic tea: the battle for Sheffield’s trees [by Samira Shackle, Guardian, Tue 24 Oct 2023]

Plymouth: “secretive night-time vandalism”?

Council leader Richard Bingley (Conservative) who signed off night-time mass felling as part of £12m regeneration scheme was forced into early resignation.

Plymouth council leader quits after approving cutting down of 110 trees [PA Media, Guardian, Thu 23 Mar]

Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee is open to the public. Please attend the meeting, and encourage others to attend. City Councillors must understand residents strength of feeling, and councillors’ duty to their electorate.


The area around St Matthew’s Piece lies in the bottom 20% nationally of the ‘Environment Domain’ in the government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation.

This – St Matthew’s Piece Timeline 1890–2020 (Click to open in Google Docs.) – is the history of how the land on which these trees stand was bought in the 1890s, with public money – and given to the local community forever … but then lost by our local councils. The current owners are multinational banking interests and property investors.

Local residents have been fighting to protect and conserve local amenity and environmental assets via Friends of St Matthew’s Piece since 30th April 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.

Earlier Mill Road Bridges blogposts on the three trees are referenced below:

From Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

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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