We’re keen to receive your letters on a wide variety of topics, from campus life to political and social issues in the wider world. Please note that all letters will be published at the editor’s discretion, and may be edited for brevity. The letters policy is available online.
or post to: Reporter, room 12.72, Employee Communications, E C Stoner Building
A GROWING CONCERN
It is hard to conceive of the development in front of the Union as truly compensatory (under a Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act) for the loss of protected green space at the Charles Morris and Earth and Environment sites. Yes, the new 'University Square' area will no longer be subject to a great deal of road traffic but the design drawings available on Campusweb indicate that there will be little real ecological benefit. Most of the area is to be paved and the environmental hazards of hard landscaping are well documented.
It seems that developers and city council planning committees (who grant approval) alike cannot conceive of change without destroying something in the process. The argument that the mature cherry trees on Lifton Place were 'at the end of their life' depends on what their function was. If it was for fruit crops for human consumption, then maybe. An agriculturalist would be better placed to give an opinion. For wildlife though, for whom urban forestry is vital these days, the older the tree, the better the habitat (more safe spaces to nest and roost) and greater the food source (increased flowering and fruting). It will take decades before the replacement trees can provide the same sustenance to campus wildlife.
In any case, the species of replacement tree was not specified so its value cannot be determined. As for making these plans available, what is the point if the comments received are not taken into consideration? The public cannot influence the contents of a Section 106; this is a matter for city council planners. The 'independent surveyors' whose opinion was used for the argument about the trees are likely to be one of the companies who are contracted to survey land in order that a developer can meet the requirements of the law when existing, protected green space is eaten up. A properly independent opinion would come from a body such as West Yorkshire Ecology or another conservation group who put wildlife first.
A final point on tree preservation orders in Leeds: these may have been effective in the University Square area because it is compensatory green space and not a new building project, but on a site subject to city council planning approval, they would be immediately overturned.
So, the irony is that a piece of land designated as compensation for lost green space has actually incurred even greater green loss.
The key aims of the proposals were to re-establish University Square as the green heart of the campus and to introduce a circulation strategy that prioritises pedestrian use whilst facilitating necessary vehicle and emergency access requirements.
In order to mitigate the loss of green space, the University committed to undertaking landscape enhancements works. The University commissioned an arboricultural survey of the trees within the square. The arboriculturalists are members of the Arboricultural Association. Founded in 1964, the association is bound by a Code of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct, which puts a duty on its members to practise with due regard to sound ecological, social, economic and environmental principles.
This survey found that cherry trees along Lifton Place were presenting signs of bacterial canker, had significant deadwood and in some instances were causing paving flags to raise. Accordingly, the advice was to fell the cherry trees, not least as this scheme presented the only opportunity to replace these trees for a generation.
It is proposed that 32 flowering pear trees will be planted – over three times the number of trees lost. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ are proposed, selected for their upright, compact form, white blossom and brilliant autumn colour. They are very hardy, drought tolerant and deep rooting, and will be planted in deep tree pits to ensure the trees thrive in an urban environment. Semi-mature standard trees will be planted to ensure substantial and immediate amenity and ecological impact.
Prior to the start of works the University undertook a lengthy consultation process with stakeholders and proposals were developed in line with feedback. A key external consultee was the Leeds City Council Landscape Officer, who approved proposals to remove and replace existing trees.
Each campus development is subject to BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), an established, widely-used environmental assessment (www.breeam.org). The University is committed to the BREEAM process and biodiversity and has appointed a Biodiversity Champion to ensure new developments enhance biodiversity.
The proposals represent:
- 73.5% net increase in number of trees in the square
- 28% increase to the central lawn area
- 180% increase in shrub/herbaceous planted areas.