Leicester Civic Society
St George's Churchyard

22 September 2017

Leicester Civic Society has created a campaign asking members to support their campaign to save the trees of St. Georges Churchyard by writing to planning@leicester.gov.uk quoting their ref. 20171911.
 

The proposed loss of 21 mature trees, two of them subject to the Tree Preservation Order, represents one third of tree cover in the churchyard and would have an adverse effect on St. Georges Conservation Area, of which the church and churchyard are the central features. An ever-changing perception of enclosure is all important to the changing views as one walks through the conservation area, and the loss of so many trees in the churchyard would have a very damaging effect on this, creating an open space where one had not existed before.

 

We are informed that seven of these trees pose a threat to the church. But how? Trees posing a threat to the church were removed only three years ago. Planning consent for application 20121485 was granted on 12th December 2012. This was for the removal of 13 trees threatening to the church, largely by virtue of leaf fall blocking gutters and drains. Works to an additional 51 trees were undertaken at the same time. No mention was made of the further seven trees now cited as “threatening” the church. Why? In what way are they threatening? Press statements released repeatedly refer to the churchyard existing as “gloomy” and “oppressive”. No justification is given for such inaccurate and biased remarks.

 

The loss of trees would also have an extremely adverse effect on local biodiversity and is therefore counter to the Leicester City Council Biodiversity Action Plan. Trees provide a natural habitat for a wide range of plants and animals. Along with Castle Gardens, ancient churchyards such as St. Georges are the only such environments in Leicester City Centre and there could be a loss of habitat for mammal, insect and bird populations with the adoption of any proposals involving unacceptable tree loss. Rather than tree loss Leicester City Council should be working towards the enhancement of such City Centre wooded environments, as they are committed to by their Biodiversity Action Plan. There is a sad tendency for urban designers to treat trees as inconveniently placed items of street furniture that can be removed at will. They are not. Trees are living things and they support living things in a complex interdependence that is also vital for our own wellbeing.

 

Following the recent controversy over loss of trees at De Montfort Hall, City Councillors committed themselves to a ‘Green Space Protocol’. The proposals at St. George’s Churchyard make no reference to this commitment. This is only the latest example at the churchyard where Councillors have said one thing but are doing another.

 

 

Many concerns over St. George’s Churchyard arise from how to deal with existing anti-social behaviour. The area is rundown and with serious problems. As a result, people find it has a slightly menacing atmosphere, with street drinking and drug abuse. Muggings are not uncommon and it is has therefore become a complete no-go area at night.

 

Although the introduction of improved lighting and new pathway surfaces are welcome, by themselves they will do nothing to decrease anti-social behaviour. Neither will removing selected trees. Indeed, without gates the otherwise excellent provision of benches and flowerbeds will only exacerbate the problem.

 

Would not night time closure be the answer, as is the case with Castle Gardens? Castle Gardens provide an interesting contrast with St. George’s Churchyard as it is. They are an inviting public open space, with many mature trees, beautiful flower beds and planting schemes. They also offer an attractive series of short-cuts. A new entrance places them within a two-minute walk of Jubilee Square and only three minutes from the top of High Street. Although there are five entrances to Castle Gardens all this is achieved with the expedience of night time closure. Could not the same be applied to St. George’s Churchyard, also by means of night time closure? It currently has only three entrances, with a fourth proposed to the LCB Depot. There could be five with a through path from the eastern corner on St. George Street to the west end of the church and the LCB Depot and Orton Square, routed to the north of the building. A connexion from this could link south to Church Street. By these means St. Georges Churchyard could therefore develop as an extremely attractive series of daytime pedestrian routes across the Culture Quarter and between Curve, London Road and the railway station.

 

Unfortunately, there is also nothing specific on the Church Street or St. George Street entrances. Current unauthorised car parking on the pathway from the Church Street entrance would be also be dealt with by proper fencing and by gates, also closed at night.

Having given us two options in August 2016, on the afternoon of 13th October 2016, the Council made the results of this consultation survey public. They had opted for 21 trees to be removed. There were 287 responses to the consultation exercise, 143 (49.8%) of them in favour of option No.1. 95 (33.1%) in favour of option No.2 and 49 (17.1%) in favour of neither. The results were therefore totally inconclusive. 67.3% didn’t like option 1 and 84% didn’t like option 2.

 

At 5.30 pm on the same afternoon they took the results to a meeting of the Economic Development, Transport and Tourism Scrutiny Commission. It was immediately pointed out by Councillor Kitterick, who is a councillor for Castle Ward and a member of the Commission, that the Council Executive appeared to have made up their minds in advance. He also made the valid point that simply cutting trees down was not going to counter the anti-social behaviour that is such a feature of the churchyard. After further discussion:

 

“It was therefore considered that the proposal to remove trees at St Georges Churchyard should proceed with caution and that a more selective approach be undertaken with each tree being individually marked for further consideration. It was suggested that the likely impact of their proposed removal could then be better assessed on site.”

 

“Councillor Waddington reiterated her comments that no decision had been taken and confirmed that a meeting could be convened to allow for the potential impact to be seen on site and reported to the Executive prior to further consideration.”

 

If any of this has taken place it has been in secret and Leicester Civic Society knows nothing of it. The current planning application, eleven months later makes no reference to this, and the application simply refers to loss of the 21 trees originally proposed. This is the second instance of Councillors saying one thing and doing another.

 
 
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