Penhill House tree felling “does not result in unacceptable harm to trees of amenity” says Cardiff Council planning chief

Trees removed were not of high quality

Professional Technical Officers did not object

Development does not result in unacceptable harm to trees of amenity, indeed it offers considerable gains in terms of new trees

Here is the text of an email from James Clemence, head of planning at Cardiff council to a local resident today (11 June):

I’ve set out a detailed explanation of the landscaping aspects of the proposal under the appropriate headings below. Given the concerns raised I feel it appropriate to respond in some detail. 

With regard to your last point raised, I would clarify that the Council has a duty to assess each application on its individual merits or otherwise having regard to the policy context, relevant material factors and consideration of consultation responses.    

(i) Landscaping details (tree removal and new planting) were considered at the outset. These matters were not after-thoughts or subject to the later submission of details. In this respect, the applicant submitted a detailed tree report, Aboricultural Method Statement (AMS) along with details of new planting. These details were considered by Officers and clearly set out to Members of Planning Committee to inform the decision taken by Committee.

(ii) Significant areas of existing mature trees & landscaping are retained along the boundary with Llandaff Fields. Whilst the poorer specimens were shown for removal, significant mature trees of higher quality along with laurel hedge below these canopies have been retained and form a strong ‘green edge’.

(iii) Trees removed were not of high quality/condition. Of the 13 trees shown for removal, 10 were identified in the Tree Survey in the ‘C’ category (low quality and value) and 1 was moribund. The  remaining two trees were assessed as in the ‘B’ category (moderate quality and value).  Of these two ‘B’ category trees, one suffered a dramatic decline in health subsequent to the tree survey resulting in it becoming largely dead. This has been linked with infection by a Phytophthora pathogen. The remaining tree related was a sycamore in Llandaff Fields. The tree report notes that it features a compression union. This is where there is movement between two forks that are not fully ‘fused’ at the union, with ‘bark on bark’ (included bark). Over time it can result in significant weakness and failure at the fork. Such forks can develop where trees grow close together in mutual suppression – such is the case on the Llandaff Fields boundary. Because there is competition for light, competing stems extend vertically rapidly so that when they are close together, the bark of each comes into contact low down – included bark. A compression fork may follow as these stems move and put on wood at the point of contact creating a ‘lip’ that effectively increases the surface area of wood that is not ‘fused’ at the union. Beyond this problem, the tree, in common with the other sycamores in this location, has evidence of squirrel damage. Squirrels remove strips of bark on the top side of branches resulting very commonly in dysfunction, decay and branch failure. Sycamore is especially vulnerable to this problem and it can create a very real hazard and necessitate repeated pruning to remove badly affected stems. In removing the tree, benefits accrue to the adjoining ‘A’ category lime and ‘B’ category sycamore, since there is reduced mutual suppression and more air space for them to grow into, increasing the crown volume and reducing the risks of compression forks developing. A further advantage is that under the canopy of sycamore trees, with their large, dark green leaves, little light is admitted to the understorey and this can result in reduced plant diversity. With more light filtering through a more diverse understorey can develop including the shrub planting proposed as part of development and the ecotone to Llandaff Fields. In other words the removal of this Sycamore may increase species and habitat diversity. A similar situation applies with regard to the removal of the sycamore group within the ‘C’ category.

(iv) New trees and landscaping included within the site and in Llandaff Fields. Whilst the landscaping proposals included the removal of trees referenced above, the proposals also included significant new planting both within the site and within Llandaff Fields. Overall, the development proposes the planting of 25 new trees and a large number of shrubs and herbaceous plants, including x7 large species trees in Llandaff Fields, so that any temporary loss of screening when viewed from the park will quickly be filled in by new growth. The new trees are diverse in terms of form and species and include the large and quick growing Alnus x spaethii and Betula maximowicziana, the broadleaved evergreens Magnolia grandiflora and Ligustrum japonicum that offer benefits to pollutant interception because of their evergreen broad-leaves, a Tilia cordata ‘Rancho’ to replace the lime T1, two Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ that are of value to pollinators and a range (x10) of Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) that are ideal under-storey trees. This new planting more than offsets the loss of existing trees and will offer considerable wider benefits to visual amenity and the environment.

(v) Professional Technical Officers did not object. Both the Council’s Parks Officer and Tree Officer recognised the benefits summarised above and had no objection to the scheme. The scheme was recommended for approval by Officers and Members of Committee were also aware of the details of trees lost and new planting in informing their decision at Committee.

(vi) Medium/long benefits secured. Understandably, the felling of trees is inevitably an emotive matter and in the short-term leaves gaps in tree cover. However, we have a duty to think ahead for future generations and plan for the long-term. Looking at this site in the medium/longer term, it is considered the new planting scheme in conjunction with extensive retained trees and vegetation provides an appropriate and acceptable solution. Regrettably, medium/long term benefits are often not fully appreciated but it is considered that planning ahead to have a more diverse and age-balanced tree/vegetation structure is preferable to simply retaining existing trees/vegetation regardless of their quality, condition and long-term contribution. 

(vii) Responsive to climate change. Retaining all existing trees without allowing opportunities for new trees is not the best approach to combatting the predicted impacts of climate change since it will result in an ageing tree population rather than a tree population with a balanced age-class structure. Furthermore it may lead to certain species dominating the flora, such as sycamore for example, which is not native and is potentially problematic in woodlands where it can shade out other species. Lack of species diversity can result in vulnerability to catastrophic pest and disease outbreaks and reduced biodiversity.

(viii) Overview. In conclusion, the development does not result in unacceptable harm to trees of amenity, indeed it offers considerable gains in terms of new trees, improved diversity and a more balanced age class structure. At the same time it retains the most important trees like the mature limes. 

I hope this response provides further clarity and a deeper understanding of the information and considerations informing the decision-making process which was subject to the normal consultation process affording the opportunity for residents to bring their concerns to the attention of officers and Committee Members ahead of a decision being taken. 

Kind regards,

James

James Clemence

Head of Planning / Pennaeth Cynllunio

Planning, Transport & Environment / Cynllunio, Trafnidiaeth a’r Amgylchedd 

City of Cardiff Council / Cyngor Dinas Caerdydd

2 thoughts on “Penhill House tree felling “does not result in unacceptable harm to trees of amenity” says Cardiff Council planning chief

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