Submitted by Editor on Thu, 03/10/2019 - 00:00

Essential Edinburgh, on behalf of the owners, has urgently sought and received the Councils go-ahead for treeworks in St Andrew Square Gardens (19/04570/TCO).  
Seven trees are affected: sycamore (T0443); Swedish whitebeam (TO450, TO452 and TO465); weeping ash (T0454); wild cherry (TO489); Japanese cherry (TO492). They are estimated to range in age from 10–90 years old.
The work follows an assessment of these trees by the Potter Tree Consultancy (PTC) on 27 August.
‘Fungal fruiting structures’ were noted on TO489. This and all the other trees bar one were degraded or decayed to some extent, but – with remedial crown lifting and thinning out – can be made as safe to the public as other unaffected trees nearby.
The lower trunk structure of the Swedish whitebeam TO465 (just south of the western entrance to the Gardens, pictured above) was ‘regrettably’ found to be severely compromised by decay. PTC recommended felling it within a month, and replacing it within six months.

That tree’s bark is shown below, complete with screwed-in cable clips and other appendages, presumably for festive lighting.

Little time to respond
Essential Edinburgh’s application was made on 24 September and granted two days later by the delegated decision of officials. Details of the case appeared online on 1 October.
Whilst Spurtle recognises that there has apparently been a need to act swiftly to preserve public safety, we’re nonetheless concerned at just how quickly such decisions can be made without public scrutiny.
After all, as PTC’s report makes clear, ‘The seven trees that are the subject of this report stand within the New Town Conservation Area (CA), administered by Edinburgh City Council (LPA). Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, section 211 you are required to give the LPA six weeks prior notice of any intention to carry out works to these trees.
‘The purpose of this six week prior notice period is to give the LPA an opportunity to consider whether a Tree Preservation Order(s) TPO should be made in respect of these trees.’
On this occasion, the Council has elected not to make a Tree Preservation Order, and Spurtle has no reason to doubt the wisdom of that decision. But if some expert outside the Council had seen the proposals differently when they came to light in public online on 1 October, they could easily have found the contested work already completed.

Chronic issues
There is no indication in PTC’s latest submission of what may have caused the decay. But, in an earlier document we reported HERE three years ago, PTC pulled no punches: 

‘The second major issue on the site relates to the high level of visitors numbers and the impact of this on the soil environment. It has been estimated in peer reviewed scientific literature that eight out of ten tree related health problems are soil related and my observations while conducting the inspection of trees serve to confirm this point. This biggest issue facing trees on the site I feel is related to soil compaction caused by a combination of heavy pedestrian traffic and also vehicular movements on the site, particularly within retained trees rooting zones.
‘The long-term impacts of this are now becoming clearly visible in a significant number of the tree crowns on the site, which are showing signs of significant dieback in the upper portions of the tree crown and in some cases the spiral of decline has been set in motion and advancing quickly.’

Thankfully, since 2016, Essential Edinburgh has acceded to the wishes of proprietors (property owners around the Square) and drastically cut back on the number and scale of events in the Gardens. However, temporary structures and their service vehicles continue to appear from time to time, as does the Edinburgh International Film Festival each summer. Meanwhile, commercial interests such as Underbelly are keen to maximise their presence in the area.
Surely, the time has come to relocate all these events elsewhere permanently.

Got a view? Tell us at and @theSpurtle