Plans to install a new city centre cycle path on Plymouth’s Armada Way – where over 100 trees were felled by the local authority in March this year, prompting a High Court injunction and widespread protests – have been opposed by local campaigners, who have described the council’s proposal to relocate six trees that survived the so-called “midnight massacre”, to make way for the lane and a new drainage system, as a “shame”, claiming that they are unlikely to survive the relocation attempt.
Save the Trees of Armada Way (STRAW), the group opposing the plans, has nevertheless emphasised that they are not against the installation of the city centre bike lane – pointing out that there is “room for both” cycling infrastructure and the trees – and that the proposals should be “modified, not scrapped”.
The Plymouth Cycling Campaign has also criticised the potential “problematic” removal of the trees.
However, Plymouth City Council has insisted that the trees’ relocation is a “vital part of the overall design” of the city centre scheme and cycle lane, and that the local authority has commissioned experts to ensure that the work is carried out safely and successfully.
The Labour-run council’s plans to rejuvenate and modernise the pedestrianised Armada Way – which it claims will provide a “greener, safer, more family friendly city centre” and “bring life back to the heart of Plymouth” – include creating a gateway to the city centre, adding more trees and greenery, helping wildlife and nature, designing a play village and places to sit for families, and installing a new cycle path for “people of all abilities”, with bike racks and Beryl hire bike hubs.
However, the proposals also involve the translocation of six trees to allow for the creation of the cycle path, as well as the installation of a sustainable, solar-powered urban drainage system to deal with the city’s rainwater and prevent flooding.
According to the plans, the trees will be dug up and moved to a different, green site, where the local authority says they will be planted in high quality soil and continue to grow, away from the “harsh urban environment”.
The proposed relocation of the trees comes just eight months after the previous Conservative administration caused a huge controversy after contractors – despite widespread opposition from residents – cut down over 100 of Armada Way’s 129 trees in March, an action local activists branded a “chainsaw massacre” and which was described by environmental campaigner Chris Packham as “despicable vandalism”.
The work was stopped by a midnight injunction, secured by members of STRAW, saving 22 trees and leading to a High Court ruling that the removal of the felled trees could only be carried out following an ecological assessment.
And today, following the controversy in Plymouth, the Conservative government has introduced new powers to ensure that any plans by councils to rip up trees will be subject to public consultation.
While Labour MP Luke Pollard derided the local authority’s decision in March as “nothing short of environmental vandalism”, the then-Conservative council leader said the removal of the trees was necessary to secure the rejuvenation of the city centre and accused the new Labour administration – which took power in Plymouth following May’s local elections – as “kowtowing to a tiny minority of extremist environmental protesters”.
But now, those very protesters have taken aim at Labour for rowing back on previous assurances that the council would keep the remaining trees in place with “no caveats”.
STRAW leader Ali White has claimed that Labour council leader Tudor Evans “has been saying over and over again” that the local authority would not remove the trees, and that the new Armada Way plans are a “shame”.
“It probably helped them at the May elections. Now they want to translocate six now which will almost certainly result in them dying. In January the council ruled out translocation of the trees because they are ‘unlikely to survive’. It certainly seemed like Plymouth Labour didn’t lift a finger to save the trees but instead used the situation to their advantage politically,” she told the Telegraph.
“One councillor said in a meeting that they had been told by their experts and the Woodland Trust that they would die. No mincing his words. The reason they want them moved appears to be due to a design which could presumably be modified,” she said.
“It is a shame, that even now, the council do not see that these mature trees are an asset which should be incorporated into the new design.”
The group has also told road.cc that it is not opposed to cyclists or a cycle lane being installed on Armada Way and that, at 45 metres wide, “there is room for both” cycling infrastructure and the trees – and that the plans for the cycle lane should simply be “modified, not scrapped”.
Meanwhile, Plymouth Cycling Campaign, a stakeholder during the consultation period, has also criticised the plans to remove the trees, noting that “environmental considerations can’t be ignored and the felling of any remaining trees to create the cycle route would be ‘problematic’.
“In fact trees are increasingly recognised as a useful form of soft segregation,” the group said.
Responding to STRAW’s objections, council leader Evans said: “We are proposing to translocate six trees to enable the installation of the new sustainable urban drainage system, which is much needed to deal with the city centre’s rainwater, prevent flooding incidents, and help keep our sea cleaner.
“Some of the trees are also situated on the route of the proposed 12-metre-wide cycling and pedestrian route through the centre, which plays a critical role in opening up the vista to the Hoe.”
He added: “We need to find the right balance between creating a modern-day city centre and one that has strong environmental credentials.
“We have spent lot of time over the past few months looking at how we can make it work. Moving these six trees is a vital aspect of the overall design and therefore we have commissioned experts in translocation to outline all the options and recommend how they think we can do it successfully.
“We have not only looked at how we move them, but crucially we have considered their new home, and what we need to do ensure their survival and we are prepared to invest money in giving these six trees a chance.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.