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Statement from leader of the Council regarding Armada Way

21 November 2022

Leader of Plymouth City Council, Richard Bingley said:

"Our Council's initial request from the design team was to establish how many healthy trees with good longevity could be retained, whilst creating the best overall plan for the future use of Armada Way for the long term. This fed through to our proposals. We see Armada Way is a major regeneration and jobs creation catalyst for the whole City Centre – somewhere we want to see as a new linear urban city park with a whole range of spaces and multi-use areas – something the existing layout does not provide as the majority of Armada Way is largely inaccessible or unusable for any meaningful activity.

"This area is also unfortunately a magnet for antisocial behaviour issues and drug/alcohol use due to the nature of the existing enclosed planting arrangement. We have been granted this once in a generation opportunity as a result of our Transforming Cities Funding – which is required to be spent by March 2023.

"A large scale, 19 day consultation was undertaken in 2018 including workshops, roadshows across the City, and a unit on New George Street for the public to see the plans. This consultation exercise, which was based on a previous arrangement for Armada Way which included significantly less tree planting and green credentials than the new scheme, received 84% approval from the public comments. Work halted for a long while after that due to the pandemic, however the new design was presented to the public at an engagement event which was heavily publicised at the end of September, which again received positive feedback – particularly when the scheme details were explained and our rationale.

"No Council takes the decision to remove trees lightly and this has been subject to thorough consideration of our existing stock and how this will work with plans for regeneration of Armada Way. The proposal for Armada Way is to replace a number of existing trees with specimens which are more appropriate for an urban, city centre environment. Informing our decision to remove the trees has been a comprehensive and detailed tree survey which provided as much information as possible about the trees along Armada Way. This tree survey showed that only 22% of the trees are considered suitable for long term retention. It was also identified that existing trees were causing damage to the built environment, with 42% of trees considered to be causing either minor or visually identifiable damage or will do so in future, which is primarily due to the trees planted being ‘field’ or countryside trees which are unsuitable for an urban environment. They are planted in war time rubble, crushed aggregate and concrete, constrained within the 1980s landscaping scheme which has reduced their longevity through a lack of access to water and nutrients – this is clear from the heave of footways and landscape features because of trees with unsuitable rooting systems in the area.

"A total of 17 Category A&B trees (Trees of high quality and value capable of making a significant contribution to the area for 40 or more years / Trees of moderate quality or value capable of making a significant contribution to the area for 20 or more years) can and will be retained on the corridor where they can be worked into the design requirements of the Armada Way scheme. These include the 16 Sweet Gum trees planted in the Piazza area circa 15 years ago which are now reaching a good level of maturity, and the large Tree of Heaven outside of the Copthorne Hotel. The planting conditions for these trees will be improved through a new technical planting specification to ensure their future longevity. These trees are also aligned well to work with the replacement planting scheme which will allow us to reinstate the vista towards the Hoe which was part of the original plan for Armada Way and has been gradually eroded and lost over time.

"We will be replacing the existing trees with approximately 50% additional healthy (164 in total – 147 new), resulting in a significant biodiversity gain of the region of 22%, improving bio-resilience to pests and climate change including increasing temperatures, drought and extreme weather events, something which the current over provision and monoculture of particular species does not enable. A new, greatly improved diversity and mix of both UK native and ornamental trees will be planted in groups to create a sense of place and order (Oak/Elm/Alder) with more ornamental ‘focal’ trees in particular key locations. The new trees will be planted within soft landscaped areas to accord with their ideal growing conditions.

"The new trees will be mature at planting, approximately 7-8m tall, creating an immediate and tangible benefit to the city centre, with the groupings allowing for usable areas of shade. New planting at the scale and layout proposed will enable us to provide significantly better rooting systems to promote healthier trees, with very limited on-going maintenance (limb removal, pollarding etc) whilst the integration of a sustainable drainage system with the new tree pits will ensure trees receive the amount of water and nutrients they require to prosper. The increased species diversity will also provide year round interest including bark texture, leaf, flower/fruit, scent, autumn colour and more usable areas of shade during hot weather to align with the proposed new uses of Armada Way. The proposed tree species and positions are designed to reflect social activity and use, aligning with their preferred planting conditions, Alder typically to water, Birch to more open lawned spaces.

"It is also important to note that, with a large number of trees in Armada Way headed towards the end of their healthy lifespans, that the new trees are planted with staggered lifespans to enable future replacement in a phased manner so that large scale replacement in a short period of time will not be needed. We will also be looking to reuse the timber from felled trees to create natural play spaces in the city centre and surroundings, as well as explore other opportunities, as well as the provision of timber.  We are also looking at opportunities to translocate 17 trees which are of an appropriate size and suitably to be moved, and will be reusing healthy shrubs in our parks or offering to the public for donation.

"A copy of the full report produced by YGS Environmental, which has informed our decision making and purposefully goes beyond the industry standard BS5837 by including numerous other factors such as longevity and damage caused by trees to buildings, will be available for review at our Knowledge Hub on Armada Way from mid November 2022 with staff on-hand to answer any questions, and on our website: https://new.plymouth.gov.uk/armada-way

"We understand for some this may not be the response some are hoping for, however this regeneration plan for Armada Way, has followed the science, and is in the best interests of the future of the City Centre, environmentally, economically and socially. New shops, businesses and accommodation will be attracted. The area will be transformed into pleasant, safe, tree-lined open space. This will allow our city centre to be sustainable in the longer term, reducing flood events, increasing biodiversity, and planting trees which will live long and healthy lives for the next 100 + years. 

"In the last 2 years the City Council’s Tree Planting Programme has resulted in 10,644 trees being planted in the City. This year (2022/2023) the City Council will be delivering 30 tree planting schemes. These are funded predominantly through the Trees for Climate Fund. We expected to plant a further 5,763 trees across these various schemes in the coming months”.

“Taking a specific example where we have dealt with the loss of trees to deliver much needed strategic infrastructure: to build the Forder Valley Link Road, which opens up further growth in the whole of Derriford and the Northern Corridor, we had to remove around 450 trees along the alignment of the new road. To mitigate this, more than 14,500 trees will be planted – over 30 times the amount taken out – to offset that loss. The majority of this tree planting has now been completed – roughly around 12,000 trees. We will finish this off with some woodland planting of around 2,000 trees by the end of 2024”.