Tuesday 8 August 2017

Full FOI re. Arbury Road.

Full responses to FOI request.

I don't really want to go through this in great depth because, well, its all there. But in summary - in Winter and Spring they cast a glance at the hedge and missed out a lot of varieties that were present - cherry plum, gean, greengage, elder, etc. They decided it was mostly hawthorn (which is true) so jumped up on that as a reason they could do more or less what they liked. 

They were advised that a shorter hedge with younger plants would establish better, more cheaply, faster. This is standard wisdom in such planting schemes, so shouldn't be surprising. 

Officers appear to have rejected that advice in favour of (presumably) much more expensive, larger trees. This wad done at the very end of the planting season, in it seems a considerable hurry (when, of course, options for buying are constrained). Because the smaller tree specimens offered by Elveden were rejected, a different species mix was obtained (one not discussed with the tree specialist at the City Council) at the eleventh hour from another company - upon receiving my advice that at least two of the species in this new mix were unsuitable the team sought advice from said tree person at the City Council and were told that yes, this was correct, they are poor trees to plant. Also because of the size of the trees planted, the advice was to water for years (not months). 

So as I said, the wrong trees were planted, at huge expense because they were really rather big, massively increasing the cost for maintenance during the first years of them being in, and planted at the wrong time of year (both ecologically and economically). This was done in great haste after a very poor survey that smacks of just having assumed what was on-site - they hadn't even looked at the trees in leaf to or closely enough for a full species survey. They cut it back without really knowing what was in it.

And then we get to the perplexing and infuriating winky smile at my list of species lost, and a reply to that was, thought not technically incorrect, entirely missing the point. No, it isn't a countryside hedge, and thats the problem - species can't re-establish when you've dug it up (twice!) in Spring, killing many seeds off, and then mulching over the top. There is no remaining seed bank to re-establish from when you kill whats underneath what you've planted and then pour tarmac either side of it. This was a remnant of an agricultural hedge with a species diversity resonant of that, which you've basically bland-scaped and made re-seeding very hard by mulching and allowing very dominant, spreading species to thrive (by wiping out all of their competitors by digging them up, twice, and mulching!). Yes, one can refer to many such wild plants as 'weeds' or 'scrub' - and such scrubby weeds of colossal importance to urban wildlife, they're the basis of why a hedge is of greater ecological worth than specimen trees. They are the whole point of why a hedge is so valuable. I just don't see any need for this skepticism when I'm not listing anything very odd here, nor do I see any reason why saying this is important should be contentious.

So, ultimately, I was (and am) right - the advice on trees I offered was correct (and confirmed by tree specialists) but ignored. And specific advice on hedge ecology seems not to have been sought at all - hence ecological concerns for the undergrowth of the hedge have been completely ignored. It was a battle royle to get them to cut holes in there to let hedgehogs through - they don't care for our ecology one iota. A tree specialist isn't a hedge specialist.

Any read through of these documents ought to give huge reason for concern at the way officers have acted - they spent a colossal sum (that isn't revealed here - but another quote that is is £20k+) on the wrong shrubs planted in an ecologically insensitive way, ignoring opportunities to plant more cheaply, effectively, ecologically sensitively and sustainably. This must surely be sufficient for anyone to doubt the competence of said officers.

I am now in discussions to get some native plants re-planted back in to the undergrowth - with the mulch as it is and bindweed/cow parsley having taken over, thats really the best approach now (rather than re-seeding) - although seeding select patches with some mulch pushed aside won't hurt in addition to that. But I'm left thinking that all of this could have been avoided - so very easily. And I'm left worrying that further schemes (to get cycle facilities we really, really need) are at risk - residents won't stand for this kind of nonsense in the more affluent, more involved parts of Cambridge.

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