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The Bristol Cable

‘Saving every tree is not the answer’

In recent years it seems there hasn’t been a single tree-felling in the city that hasn’t been met with some kind of outcry, regardless of how clearly the benefits outweigh the cost. We must confront this shortsightedness.

Bristol and the Climate Crisis

Trees are brilliant. Aside from their incalculable value in ecosystems, trees are natural flood defences and air conditioners – not only giving us shade but actively cooling the area around them. At the time I’m writing this we are heading into high summer, and with temperature records becoming more extreme around the world and freak downpours flooding the streets of Edinburgh, I am immensely grateful to live in a city as green as Bristol. It’s hard to overstate just how useful and important our urban trees are.

But in prioritising a few individual specimens over much-needed housing and sustainable transport, Bristol’s vocal tree campaigners are managing to do just that.

We’re facing a climate and ecological emergency, and we need to change how we live and do business. That will only be achieved by transforming our local environments, to enable us to live and travel in sustainable ways. This involves some inevitable development – of the walking, cycling, public transport and rail infrastructure needed to enable us to live with fewer cars and trucks; and of the urban housing that allows us to live in efficient, compact, walkable neighbourhoods, instead of a car-dependent sprawl. We need to move fast, and sometimes, however hard we try to work around them, we’re going to need to cut down some trees. 

In recent years, it seems there hasn’t been a single tree-felling in the city that hasn’t been met with some kind of outcry, regardless of how clear the benefits or how small and scrappy the loss. On the Railway Path in Easton this summer, pinch points will be remedied and the path widened in places, so that it meets the modern standards that such walking and cycling routes need, if they are to get people out of their cars. In Horfield, the self-seeded scrub and trees around some scruffy old garages will be cleared, as they make way for an infill terrace of desperately needed council houses. And Bedminster is the latest area to have its railway embankments cleared of young self-seeded trees, as Network Rail rectifies years of maintenance neglect that began with privatisation and now threatens the reliability and safety of the network.

But perhaps the perfect example of people losing all perspective can be found along the Harbourside, where a car park and a caravan site are now in line for housing.

It’s hard to imagine a less objectionable scheme than the Baltic Wharf development, or a more appropriate space to replace with housing than the Gas Ferry car park. These are brownfield sites, a walkable distance from the city centre, on an established high-frequency public transport route, and close to the outstanding natural amenities in the centre and west side of Bristol. The 166 homes proposed by the council-owned developer – 51 of them new council flats – will be in attractive mid-rise buildings, a gentle density that is well suited to the area.

But enlivening the otherwise dead asphalt anachronisms that are these city centre car parks are a couple of dozen unremarkable trees, some of which might have to go. That is, ostensibly, the reason for opposition to the whole idea of redeveloping them.

In a climate and ecological emergency, we need radical action, and fast. There is no status quo option. We can’t pause climate breakdown while we tweak every development, one by one, until it’s perfect. In an emergency you have to run to keep up, and you have to pick between options that are available.

The alternative to schemes that involve felling a few trees, to safeguard and improve our active travel and public transport infrastructure, is the continued increase of car journeys. Scupper council-owned developments of urban density housing on walkable city centre brownfields, and the demand for housing will instead be met by the private developers waiting in the wings with another car-dependent sprawling housing estate on greenfields served by ever bigger ring roads in South Gloucestershire.

When the topic of the Gas Ferry car park did the rounds on social media recently, provoked by one Harbourside resident’s suggestion that the trees all deserved urgent protection orders, the discussion served as a useful reminder that environmental and conservation movements are loose coalitions of people who don’t always share the same definitions or have the same ultimate objectives in mind when they unite behind a policy or action. Many in the discussion let slip their true fears about “overdevelopment” – of too many new buildings and too many new people living in their beloved neighbourhood. This is the definition of NIMBYism, driven by a fear of change, and the loss of what has become personally familiar and comfortable.

Few NIMBYs will ever admit to it. They’ll try to hide their motives behind noble and selfless objectives like a concern for trees. The lesson for campaigners is to be careful who you fall into coalition with. Just because somebody with a petition or a platform claims concern for the environment, doesn’t mean they’re fighting for the solutions this city, or the planet, desperately needs.

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  • Harry Mac says:

    What happened to “act locally, think globally”? I sort of hate everything you said. Local people campaign on local issues and, fuck it, yes, maybe try to save local trees and small bits of habitat. They should get out of the way because Joe Dunckley has a masterplan that will save the environment by stacking up housing and he’s in a hurry. Plans that run roughshod over local interests rarely turn out well

  • Anita Bennett says:

    Why was this unbalanced article published for a second time, conveniently during the Council meeting? Mayor Rees failed to answer the most relevant question, not about trees in general, but most specifically about whether or not Baltic Wharf remains on the original map as part of the promised 2-year consultation period on the entire Western Harbourside.

    Developers and politicians appear to be jumping the gun, bypassing a comprehensive consultation of the site within the context of the whole. Instead Baltic Wharf was referred to as a “brownfield site.”

    “It’s a difficult decision about Western Harbourside and Baltic Wharf. If we don’t build on brownfield sites, where are we going to go?,” asked the Mayor.

    Save Baltic Wharf Trees are deeply disappointed because it is the Harbourside’s only GREEN space. We feel he’s wrongly mislabelling it as “brownfield” to deliberately circumvent the democratic process. He simply refused to answer Peter Herridge’s question, about agreeing that this endangered rare green space remains on the map of the whole Western Harbourside.

    Is Baltic Wharf a green space or a brownfield building site? Yes or no? Should there be proper consultation or rushed high density building approval? Let the city, not the developers, decide, please.

  • Peter Herridge says:

    Let me run a Truth check on this article.

    The Baltic Wharf caravan site is not a brown field site, it does not appear on the BCC list of brown field sites. It is in fact a green oasis, home to 91 mature trees, 80 metres of Hawthorn hedgerow, numerous other shrubs and provides habitat for birds, bats and a vast diversity of other wildlife.

    The proposed building for the BW site is neither “attractive” nor “mid-rise”. The accepted definition of a high-rise building is one over 18 meters (Hackett Review 2018). The proposed Baltic Wharf building is 24 meters high, double the height of the adjoining buildings. It is definitely not considered attractive as witnessed by the hundreds of objections to the planning application. You may find it hard to imagine a less objectionable scheme Mr Dunckley but it would appear that the general public don’t agree with you.

    The developers are not planning to cut down “a few trees”, they are planning to fell 74 trees on the Baltic Wharf site alone. May I refer you and the developers to the latest update of the NPPF which clearly states that existing trees should be retained. It would appear therefore that current Government policy now suggests that saving trees IS the answer.

    Finally may I say that I regard the use of the word NIMBY in the same way as I view the other N-word: it is unacceptable. It is an attempt to denigrate, stereotype, belittle and discredit a certain section of the community. I regard those who use the word in much the same way as I view racists.

  • bristol_citizen says:

    Perhaps Joe could come to South Bristol and take a look at developments and proposed developments like Boklok, Hengrove Park, Western Slopes and Filwood Park and explain in afurther areticle how they’re “efficient, compact, walkable neighbourhoods, instead of a car-dependent sprawl”?

  • Peter Herridge says:

    Let me run a Truth check on this article.

    The Baltic Wharf caravan site is not a brown field site, it does not appear on the BCC list of brown field sites. It is in fact a green oasis, home to 91 mature trees, 80 metres of Hawthorn hedgerow, numerous other shrubs and provides habitat for birds, bats and a vast diversity of other wildlife.

    The proposed building for the BW site is neither “attractive” nor “mid-rise”. The accepted definition of a high-rise building is one over 18 meters (Hackett Review 2018). The proposed Baltic Wharf building is 24 meters high, double the height of the adjoining buildings. It is definitely not considered attractive as witnessed by the hundreds of objections to the planning application. You may find it hard to imagine a less objectionable scheme Mr Dunckley but it would appear that the general public don’t agree with you.

    The developers are not planning to cut down “a few trees”, they are planning to fell 74 trees on the Baltic Wharf site alone. May I refer you and the developers to the latest update of the NPPF which clearly states that¡ existing trees should be retained. It would appear therefore that current Government policy now suggests that saving trees IS the answer.

    Finally may I say that I regard the use of the NIMBY as unacceptable. It is an attempt to denigrate, stereotype, belittle and discredit those members of the community who care passionately about their local environment.

  • Joe says:

    @bristol_citizen why would I do that? They’re not compact city centre developments on old car parks, which is what this article was about. Though it’s fascinating that you’ve jumped to the conclusion that the article is all about you and the developments that you’re interested in, rather than about the brownfield regenerations the article actually references.

    If you think this article is about you, tell me why we should be preserving car parks during environmental and housing crises. You don’t think we should be preserving car parks? Then this article isn’t about you. But it says something interesting that you decided it was.

  • P says:

    Is Joe Dunckly being deliberately obtuse, is he in the pay of housing developers or is he an ignorant shit or….?? The Harbour side caravan park development is not a brown field development it is the only GREENFIELD expanse of MATURE TREES on spike island.

    He whitters on about clearing self seeding shrubs & does not seem to have been listening to the words of these campaigners he bleates about. It is the MATURE TREES that are important, precious commodities for our cities & environment as a whole, & they that they seek to preserve. Maybe he lives in a leafy suberb but in the inner city they are in short supply. Building schemes like at M32 Maples & Baltic Wharf have ruthlessly sought to maximize the developer’s profit with scant regard for locals or Bristolians as a whole. Alternatives are there to preserve mature trees amongst developments but the mayor’s minions seem to come down on the side of greed. With developers running rough shod over environmental regulation, building regulation, planning.. to maximize profit with high density Stalinesk monstrosities for the great unwashed of St Pauls & masses of concrete & glass to overshadow our waterside amenities

    This council owned harbourside development is not so much social housing as discounted housing only the rich can afford. it does nothing for the poor & needy of our town & detracts from what we have.

    Marvin’s worries about housing 7 Londoners blowing in each week need putting in perspective;
    Wake up & smell the coffee. Have you not noticed the flood of EU nationals Brexiting the country. Have you not noticed the contraction of the high Street, the closing of pubs clubs & high Street retail; the change of consumer habits. Spaces are amassing. We don’t need to destroy all are bits of green. We need to fight to preserve are little bits of nature

    Do more to save what we have & stict some fucking MATURE TREES across Broadmead; that retail mass of concrete & glass needs it

  • Hugh Holden says:

    Hundreds , even thousands of Ash trees within Bristol will be felled over the next couple of years because of Ash dieback , and under existing planning laws none of them will have to be replaced . This even applies to those in conservation zones ,with the rare exception of those with individual TPOs.
    If you add to this the fact the maximum fine for breaching a TPO is £20000 , and that only in the unlikely event of a drastically under resourced BCC Legal Dept prosecuting the offender , are you really surprised people are fighting to retain every tree under threat ?

  • killex Kingfisher says:

    Shame on the a the Bristol Cable. Aspiring to be the next Daily Mai.
    Short on the facts and the public’s view.
    Big on developers, lies and greed.

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