Grafton Centre Redevelopment – How Big?

A planning application for quadrupling the height and mass of the Grafton Centre has attracted far less attention and comment than the parallel one for the Beehive site. Almost none. But it would have comparable impact on the Mill Road Conservation Area environment, including the ‘green lung’ of St Matthew’s Piece. Read/download the documentation on the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Portal, here.

Showing existing Grafton Centre – height 10.5 m to 14 m

The applicant’s Landscape And Public Realm statements fail to mention that the proposed structures would look directly into the residential housing estate, on the opposite side of East Road (from south to north – Amblecote, Fazeley House, Shenstone House, Wheaton House, Hilderstone House, and the new housing, under construction on the site of the former garages). Views shown from the proposed structure’s roof terrace reveal just how much the building will dominate the skyscape from much of central Cambridge. See the documentation on the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Portal.

Showing proposed Grafton Centre with a height up to 41 m

There has been no consultation in the Mill Road Conservation Area, although the views from so many of these homes and streets would be dramatically impacted by substantial changes to the skyline from this enormous development.

An objection to these proposals (PDF 2.9MB) in the name of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece has been submitted to Greater Cambridge Shared Planning. 

The dramatic graphics (above), in addition to those in the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece submitted objection, show the existing vs minimum heights of the structures proposed in Planning Application 23/02685/FUL. The actual impact would be even worse, as the footprint also expands, and the height of the proposed structures rise to 41m. If we add in flues and vents, which (as revealed in the Beehive application) can rise to 25% again of these building heights, these proposals will dominate the skyline over a wide area of the city’s Petersfield ward.

To make clear what this means for residents of the Mill Road Conservation Area, not one of whom was at any stage informed of or consulted on these proposals, a technically adept Friend of St Matthew’s Piece has taken the developer’s precise figures from today’s new image and made an animated gif to show what the Old vs New Grafton Centre would look like, combining (a) info from this most recent image from the developer with (b) the image the developer provided on p.33 of their Design & Access Survey of the existing “low level” Grafton Centre…

Image as foregoing text.

The formal comment deadline for Planning Application 23/02685/FUL passed on Tuesday 28th November 2023. However public comments can still be uploaded to the the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Portal – and will be taken into account – right up until the date of the Cambridge City Council Planning Committee meeting at which this application will be considered, which has not yet been scheduled.


More about Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

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.


Blogposts on other issues concerning 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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Saved!

Graphic: Three trees , worker wielding chainsaw crossed out
Text: Out three St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Saved!

At the 1st November 2023 Cambridge City Council Planning Committee meeting, the three 125-year-old threatened London Plane Trees along Sturton Street were vigorously and successfully defended.


Relief after Cambridge park’s mature trees saved from the chop By Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent, 01 November 2023


Around 40-50 members of the public lined the outer rows of seats in the main Council chamber. Some carried banners and placards, which were held aloft throughout. 

Powerful and clear speeches in strong defence of the trees were given by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, by all three of our Petersfield ward Councillors – Councillor Mike Davey, Labour, Leader of the Council; Councillor Richard Robertson, Labour; Councillor Katie Thornburrow, Labour, Executive Councillor for Planning, Building Control and Infrastructure – and also by Councillor Jean Glasberg, Newnham, Green Party, Green & Independent (Spokes) for Communities, Open Spaces and City Services, Climate Action and Environment.

Aerial view of the three trees

Several of these speeches cited recent incisive legal input from the highly respected expert planning solicitor Richard Buxton. This is not the first time Richard has been key to protecting St Matthew’s Piece. See March & July 2007 in – St Matthew’s Piece Timeline 1890–2020 (Click to open in Google Docs.)

A thorough and penetrating debate took place about many aspects of the application to fell these three trees. All of the voting Planning Committee Members diligently interrogated the complex issues objectively. Most made a point of specifically mentioning the many emails they had received directly from local residents – these clearly had an important impact.

The decision to refuse the application was finally taken – and it was unanimous – to the enormous relief and delight of all the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporters in the chamber. Robust and detailed ‘Reasons to Refuse’ were then formally agreed.

We must all remain vigilant, to continue to ensure these precious trees last another 125 years – and more!

Graphic: Trees with hearts
Text: THANK YOU SO MUCH  FOR YOUR HELP
From Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

Moreover, St Matthew’s Piece needs support in protection from inappropriate development. Scroll down to read more


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

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 blogposts on the three trees


Blogposts on other issues concerning St Matthew’s Piece

Proposed St Matthew’s Piece development inbound list above

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

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – The Crucial Meeting

Photo of banner on the at-risk trees
  • The crucial meeting on the fate of the three threatened trees is tomorrow Wednesday 1st November. 
  • It will be at 10 am in the main Council Chamber at the Guildhall
  • It is open to the public, via the Peas Hill entrance only, from 9.30 am
  • First real item of business on the agenda – please come, and please be prompt
  • It would be very helpful for as many supporters as possible to be there!
  • If we can’t save these 3 highly protected trees, NO tree in Cambridge is safe.
Photo of the three threatened trees on St Matthew’s Piece
The three threatened trees on St Matthew’s Piece

Extracts of a letter by an Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporter to the Planning Committee:

…With family in Sheffield and in Plymouth, I’m very aware of how much is at stake tomorrow for all concerned in this application/decision, including yourselves….
   

I’ve just read the latest report from Joanna Davies to the Committee. I write with other decision-making processes in my mind regarding Council tree officers, favouring the removal of trees at this period of climate chaos. 

Tree officers are being asked to take decisions that require professional knowledge and skill, a multi-disciplinary approach, and ethical thinking that the current regulatory framework does not allow for. In this case, Ms Davies is not competent to answer questions about building methods and therefore about buildings allegedly affected by tree roots, nor is she mandated (or qualified) to question the potential involvement and motives of the owners of the land on which the three trees sit. Yet these are crucial questions that may affect … these terrible acts of destruction, and part of the story of our area. They are not relevant to a tree officer but they are, in reality, central to questions of justice and the preservation of Petersfield.

[Did] the additional advice Ms Davies sought about this application lead to a thorough on-site inspection of the allegedly threatened building? … Was this in fact merely a paper exercise, just checking the bureaucratic competence of the insurers claim?

In Sheffield … the destruction of mature trees has been experienced by the public as acts of slaughter, even murder. There is no comfort in the argument that no one responsible actually broke the law. Traditionally ‘safe’ left wing constituencies have voted against Labour councillors as a direct consequence of decision making that resulted in mature trees being felled against public wishes. 

Trees are experienced everywhere as living beings who share our lives, and the regulations to which Ms Davies is bound, and the processes by which such decisions are made, are clearly inadequate. I hope councillors can find that … there remain too many questions in this case that … she is neither authorised nor professionally competent to answer.

These heavy matters now rest with yourselves. I hope the wisest and most morally fair decision is taken tomorrow…


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

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:


THANK YOU SO MUCH  FOR YOUR HELP
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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – The Final Frontier?

URGENT ACTION NEEDED
3 TREES AT THREAT OF
FELLING ON THE PIECE

THREE MAGNIFICENT TREES

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.


THE CONTINUING THREAT

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.


THE AUGUST REPRIEVE

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

HOWEVER…

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.


OTHER BATTLES TO SAVE 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 ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

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:


THANK YOU SO MUCH  FOR YOUR HELP
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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – “Why don’t the planners…?”

Prompted by our recent blogpost St Matthew’s Piece Trees – STILL under threat! and by the urging of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, many local residents emailed our local City Council ward councillors for Petersfield, ward councillors for the neighbouring Abbey ward and members of the Planning Committee.

The three trees under threat on St Matthew’s Piece Trees

The response from councillors has been heartening, but some local residents have puzzled why it is not possible for members of the Planning Committee to give their unqualified support to refuse the application.

Members of the Planning Committee can, and should, consider all of the evidence and every representation made by the public about any planning application.

However, a Planning Committee meeting has a legal (judicial) function and, just as neither judge nor jury may decide the outcome of any case before the court assembles, neither may members of the Planning Committee make a decision on any application before it is considered, in full, at the Planning Committee meeting.

But let Councillor Sam Carling, Cambridge City Councillor for West Chesterton,
Executive Councillor for Open Spaces and City Services and a member of the Planning Committee, explain.

We are pleased to have received permission to publish Councillor Carling’s recent email, in full (below).

Dear resident,

I’m writing to you in response to your email regarding the planning application 23/0119/TTPO – Felling of St Matthew’s Piece Trees, which you sent to me as a member of the Planning Committee. I read your email and considered it in full after receiving it, but I cannot respond to the points you raise regarding the application, and I wanted to explain why.

Committee members are not able to respond to the detail of emails regarding planning applications, as you may have been told, and the very high volume of emails that came in meant I could not reply to each to explain why that is the case. Instead, I thought it best to wait until the emails stopped and then write a response to everyone together. There are also some misconceptions evident in some of the emails I received, so I also wanted to take the opportunity to answer some of those.

Essentially, Planning Committee members must at all times avoid “fettering our discretion”. What this means is, it is critical that members of the committee do not take any action or speak in a way that could be interpreted as biasing our view on the application, or which suggests we have already made our decision (predetermination). If a committee member were to express views on an application prior to the meeting at which it is considered, they would have to withdraw from discussion on the item and not vote on it, though they may speak as a ward councillor if they wish. If a Committee member was found to have been predetermined and had voted on an application, it would leave the decision open to a high risk of challenge.

You are probably aware by now that the application was deferred to be considered at a future Planning Committee meeting. I do not yet have the date on which the application will return – if it comes to the September meeting then the date is the 6th September, but it may be heard at another month’s meeting. In respect of the meeting last week, the committee did engage in a brief discussion about some of the issues prior to the deferral, which you can find on the livestream of the meeting here between 28:23 and 40:35.

As I said, I would like to correct a couple of misunderstandings included in some of the emails I received:

“Why does the council want to fell these trees?” / “Why have you allowed this application to be submitted?” / words to that effect

The City Council did not submit this application. An application has been received from a third party, which is being dealt with through the standard planning processes. It is due to be determined by the Planning Committee in line with the committee’s duty to determine applications when officers cannot do so under delegated powers or when other procedural matters apply.  The Planning Committee has no powers to prevent anyone from making a planning application; all applications must be determined through the statutory process. 

“Councillors should reconsider their decision” / “Please overturn this decision” / other suggestions that a decision has been made

No decision has been made. An application has been submitted and as yet, no determination/decision has been taken on it.

“Please reassure me that these trees will not be felled” / “Please promise to vote against the felling of these trees”

No Planning Committee member can promise to vote a particular way on a planning application, because that would constitute predetermination as I outlined earlier in this email, and therefore mean that member wouldn’t be able to vote on the application. 

“The Planning Committee should instead order a root barrier to be installed”

The Planning Committee is not able to make such an order. We must determine the application put before us by either allowing it or refusing it; we cannot change the nature of it (though we can add reasonable conditions). Part of the discussion we had at the meeting last week (which I included a link to earlier in this email) was around this issue, and I would encourage you to listen to that if you are interested. Further work on alternatives is ongoing in other parts of the Council.

It is absolutely your right to contact us about things like this – as elected representatives, we are here to serve as your voice in Cambridge. I will of course read any replies to this email, however I am unlikely to be able to respond again in turn due to the need to avoid any perception of bias. I realise that, despite this email being very lengthy, I have not addressed the points raised in your emails about the application itself. I’m sorry about that, I know it is unfortunate and stressful for all members of the community that want to hear some news on this application. Again, please be reassured that I have read and considered your email in full.

If you would like to watch the committee’s discussion on this application when it is next heard, you can watch the livestream of the meeting on the City Council’s YouTube channel, or you can come in person as well if you would like to be present. However, please be warned that we often run quite far behind the guide times listed on the agenda as we tend to be very thorough in our discussions!

Best wishes,

Sam

Email from Councillor Sam Carling, on 11 Aug 2023, at 16:04

EARLIER POSTS


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND


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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Safe?

THE REPEATED THREAT

An insurance claim at 193 Sturton Street (a new-build approx 25 year old property) blaming clay shrinkage subsidence on three, rare, mature, 125-year old trees, subject of Tree Protection Orders, resulted in a planning application for the felling of these trees.

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

See earlier posts:

THE REPRIEVE (FOR NOW)

Hours ahead of the Cambridge City Council Planning Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday 2nd August 2023 at 10 am the item was removed from the agenda.

On Tuesday 1st Aug 2023, at 21:21 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

An excellent report  By Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent, updates us on the threat to the trees…

Cambridge protesters hope to stop felling of 125-year old trees at St Matthew’s Piece


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND


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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – STILL under threat!

PLEASE HELP FIGHT THIS  

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.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED

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.


THE REPEATED 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.

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

SUGGESTED OBJECTIONS

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)

EMAIL OUR CITY COUNCILLORS

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.


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND


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.

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

THE 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.


PLEASE HELP FIGHT THIS  

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.


THE ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

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.


SUGGESTED GROUNDS FOR OBJECTION

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

FURTHER BACKGROUND INFORMATION

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 

FOR THE FUTURE

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.

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Under Threat

A guest post from Valerie Neal, a Friend of St Matthew’s Piece

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.



Trees in Petersfield 

Consider how poor is the tree cover generally in the surrounding area. Our little St Matthew’s Piece is Petersfield’s only official park (versus the 56 parks in the other 13 Cambridge wards; see the 2018 Cambridge Local Plan’s Appendix C). Petersfield  is poorly provided for not only with regard to Public Open Space but also when it comes to tree canopy, number of trees, and tree coverage. All of this while Petersfield has the most densely housed population in Cambridge, living in properties that are predominantly very small houses or flats (with little or no private gardens; see p24 of the most recent Friends of St Matthew’s Piece submission to the Planning Portal).

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece are not the only ones to have noticed. A recent (late 2021) pan-European study included Cambridge in its review of 1000 cities – Green space and mortality in European cities: a health impact assessment study [The Lancet, VOLUME 5, ISSUE 10, E718-E730, OCTOBER 01, 2021]. This revealed that 68% of Cambridge residents do not have the WHO-recommended access to green space. 

These 68% are, naturally, not evenly distributed across Cambridge. The Environment ‘Domain’ of the latest iteration of the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation reveals that the area around St Matthew’s Piece falls into the 2nd most deprived of 10 deciles nationally, with regard to this parameter.

All of the splendid mature trees around the (now, tragically, privatised – in 2018) northern half of St Matthew’s Piece have continued to thrive, thanks to the twin protections of Tree Preservation Order No 4/2005 and their location within the Mill Road Conservation Area (1993). The benefits are mutual: these trees are themselves vital to the Mill Road Conservation Area. Check Tree Preservation Orders on the Cambridge City Council website here.

But that does not mean these precious trees are safe. 

A New Threat 

On 15th March, a scant week before the 22nd March deadline set by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning for the submission of comments, Friends of St Matthew’s Piece learned by chance of the ‘tree application’

22/0271/TTPO | T1, T2 & T3: London Plane – Reduce height by ~5m and spread by ~4m balancing crown of all three trees. Prune on a triennial cycle to maintain broadly at reduced dimensions. | St Matthews Centre And St Matthews Piece Sturton Street Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB1 2QF

This proposed a brutal cutting back of three of the original 1898 trees along Sturton Street: each by 5 m in height and 4 m in spread. Why? To address problems detected in a 25-year-old property at 193 Sturton Street – a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). The papers on the planning portal concerning 22/0271/TTPO are viewed by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece and other Objectors as scanty, flawed and contradictory, building a very weak case for any cutting back any of the trees – never mind all three trees. 

The trees are still at risk. The local community responded magnificently to an appeal from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece to defend them. Within five days, no fewer than 43 local Objections to the planning application were submitted. 28 have been uploaded under the ‘Documents’ tab of the Planning Portal for 22/0271/TTPO; as well as 15 Comments (all objections) under the ‘Public Comments’ tab. The objections are thoughtful, well-informed and effective – worth reading.

If you wish to add your voice to these Public Comments, you can register and submit your views right until the application goes to a meeting of the City Council Planning Committee. 

City Councillor for Petersfield Ward, Richard Robertson, has ‘called in’ the application, which means it can no longer be decided by a Planning Officer but must go before the Planning Committee to be determined. We don’t yet know when this will happen (the next meetings are 14th June and 6th July 2022). 

Arguments against the proposal are varied and wide-ranging. Many wrote in support of the importance, value, diverse environmental roles and beauty of these historic trees. The most powerful perhaps relate to water, as explained in pp 17–19  of the full submission by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece –Objection to 22/0271/TTPO.

The insurance company could spend upwards of £80,000 to underpin 193 Sturton Street, to address the subsidence they have found there since the summer of 2019. The alternative they propose instead is to severely cut back our three protected trees and spend around £8,000 to repair the cracks and redecorate. They argue that the damage to the house is due to the trees taking up too much water, and have tried to prove this by measuring the movement of the house at 8 different points over the course of 1 year, running May-to-May. Here is their graph:

Graph titled:
Precise level monitoring for points 1 to 8 - related to drain

But are our trees the true cause of this subsidence?

The lower curves on the insurance company’s graph, the ones showing the most movement, all echo precisely that seen – on a matching May-to-May horizontal axis – in the annual variation in soil moisture deficit (SMD). This 2nd graph is from the Environment Agency, based on more than 60 years of data. This shows a predictable and well established regional seasonal pattern in soil moisture deficit:

Environment Agency Graph 
East Anglia
Ranking derived from data for the period Jan-1961 to Dec-2017
Horizontal axis: May 2020 to May 2021
Vertical axis: soil moisture deficit (mm)
Source: Environment Agency Monthly Water Situation Report

Parts of 193 Sturton St have therefore been recorded as moving entirely in synchrony with the: 

  • longstanding, 
  • natural, 
  • firmly established, and 
  • widespread 

annual cycle of soil drying under the property. This occurs over the entire East Anglian region – irrespective of any effect of trees on St Matthew’s Piece. It is the view of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece that no evidence is produced in planning application 22/0271/TTPO that crown reduction and spread reduction of our three trees would have any significant or sustained protective impact at 193 Sturton Street – in the inescapable context of this annual hydrogeological cycle. 

Furthermore: many houses are just as close to St Matthew’s Piece trees but it is only this one that has cracks – the problem seems to be with this new house, not with these old trees.


Local residents may also 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]


How many more Cambridge trees will face similar threats, when the fundamental problem is unlikely to be the trees themselves but over-abstraction of water associated with over-development and its impact on the local water table?


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.

From Risky Streets to ‘Living Streets’?

The Living Streets local street survey of Cambridge

In December 2020 and January 2121 Mill Road Bridges featured Pavement Survey – Living Streets and Pavement Survey – Update from the Cambridge Living Streets group.

The group’s report From Risky Streets to ‘Living Streets’? – The Living Streets local street survey of Cambridge (PDF) is now available online. Click the image below to read/download the report.

image: Living Streets Group Cambridge
Image courtesy of the Cambridge Living Streets group
The report’s author, Linda Jones. Photo: Cambridge News

Authored by Linda Jones, Emeritus Professor of Health, The Open University (also former Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Petersfield Division in Cambridge) the report highlights Cambridge residents’ dissatisfaction, with fewer than 6% happy with their experience as a pedestrian.

Table 3: Overall pedestrian experience
Are you generally happy with your experience as a pedestrian in Cambridge?
Overall YES 5.4%
Overall NO 62.9%
It Depends 31.6%

Nearly every respondent mentioned the state of the pavements themselves, with nearly 3/4 of respondents complaining about pavements blocked by parked vehicles. Cambridgeshire County Council have had powers for over a decade to tackle the issue of vehicles obstructing our pavements. And it wouldn’t put a penny on the council tax – enforcement would be self-financing as penalty charge revenue would help to pay the salaries of the existing enforcement officers.

See Protecting Pedestrian Space.

Table 4: Pavements: quality and obstructions % reporting
Pavements that are sloping, uneven, cracked or potholed 90.7%
Pavements blocked by parked vehicles 71.5%
Pavements blocked by waste bins 62.6%
Traffic signs and street furniture obstructing pavements 41.5%
Hedges protruding onto pavements 53%

Read/download the report From Risky Streets to ‘Living Streets’? – The Living Streets local street survey of Cambridge, here.

See also Living Streets Cambridge report says just 6% happy with conditions for pedestrians by Mike Scialom in the Cambridge Independent.

And don’t forget to contribute to the Living Streets organisation’s national Cut the Clutter! week of Action Monday 12th July – Sunday 18th July 2021 by mapping the pavement-clutter around your area. If you haven’t already done so, click here to start mapping your local pavement-clutter.