Writing to York City Council in advance of the planning meeting Denise Craghill said:
I called this application in as ward councillor because I was concerned particularly about the previous felling of 5 of the mature limes on the York St John site, fronting on to Lord Mayor’s Walk in 2019. This has decimated the street scene on Lord Mayor’s Walk, taking out a substantial part of the lime avenue on that side of the road and leaving a very noticeable gap.
I called the application in primarily so that the reasons behind it could be explained in public and better understood. I initially thought that perhaps the committee would be obliged to agree that very regretfully the loss of all the trees is now unavoidable.
However, having studied the committee paper in great detail, as well as some of the previous decisions and seen comments from very well respected local tree surgeons I do not now believe that is the case.
Once trees are pollarded they do have to continue to be pollarded on a regular cyclical basis in order to protect their health and it seems that over the years this hasn’t happened consistently when it should have done or in the right way.
Nonetheless, as recently as 2018 the council refused permission to fell the 14 remaining limes fronting on to Lord Mayor’s Walk and served TPOs on all of them. The refusal notice said ‘‘The line of Lime trees is an extremely important landscape feature of Lord Mayors Walk. The trees, although re-pollarded in recent years, are echoed by the line of Lime trees on the opposite side of the road; together they form a strong avenue. The trees are also important for the setting and context of the Grade II listed St. John buildings. Although their pollarded condition has somewhat reduced their amenity value and longevity, they still make a positive contribution to the attractive character of the street; and their removal is not essential at this time.’
Following that refusal a number of further tree reports were carried out and somehow in just over one year’s time resulted in a very different assessment which meant permission was given to fell 5 of the most substantial limes in early 2019. Even then, part of the approval in 2019 also included reference to a phased approach over the next 10 – 15 years for the removal and replacement of the remaining trees.
It’s therefore very hard to understand why this application should now be approved to remove all the mature trees. The five “semi mature” but still pretty small and spindly replacement trees planted in 2019/20 have had a very short time to grow so far and are not particularly noticeable in the street scene.
At the same time, the report itself states at para 4.17 that ‘The trees do not form a significant threat to life or property. To be maintained safely they need regular, cyclical pollarding.’ There is a strong professional view supported by previous tree reports that they could last for at least another ten years or longer.
Its hard not to draw the conclusion that the main reason for wanting to cut down all of these mature trees in one go is purely financial in order to avoid the need to maintain an appropriate management plan. Whilst understanding that finances are challenging for everyone, I would suggest that this is a false economy and not an acceptable reason for removal. The trees bring multiple advantages to the area not least in terms of the health and well being of residents (including YSJ students) and the setting of the University itself.
I would urge the committee to refuse the application (and also apply a TPO to the five remaining lime trees within the YSJ site) on the basis that with a proper management regime the trees still have 10 – 15 years of life left and that they should be retained for this period of time, allowing the five recently planted trees to gain more maturity. After 10 years or so the trees could be replaced on a one to one basis as and when necessary.
This would retain the maximum tree coverage for the avenue in the immediate term and for the future, retaining all the advantages of mature trees as set out in the paper. Lime tree avenues are a significant feature in York’s street-scape. If we are to retain and increase York’s tree canopy as part of our response to climate change and to improve quality of life and well being, we cannot afford to set such a bad example as allowing all these mature trees to be removed in one fell swoop when they have years of life left in them and when it is clear that a more phased approach is perfectly possible. Rather than removing mature trees unnecessarily, the learning from this whole process needs to be that more methodical and cyclical management plans are needed for all the trees in our city.