Published: 12:56, 08 June 2022
| Updated: 13:17, 08 June 2022
Five large trees destined for the chop in the centre of Canterbury now look set to be saved in a dramatic u-turn.
The city council has long had its sights set on removing the mature trees in favour of a £1.2 million makeover of the high street.
But now - following a tsunami of criticism and a petition earning more than 5,000 signatures - authority bosses have gone back to the drawing board.
The trees were scheduled to be uprooted in January next year, when the long-standing market is disbanded and dispersed to various streets across the city.
A new avenue of 14 trees were planned to be planted, creating a boulevard-style high street offering a "much softer, greener and leafy feel".
Scores of residents and city visitors have spoken out against the project over the past two years, yet the council continually remained steadfast in seeing through its tree-felling vision.
Now, however, bosses are making a u-turn.
The five trees are set to all be saved and an additional one will be planted, while the approved proposal for an avenue of 14 trees has been ditched.
Council leader Ben Fitter-Harding said: "I've always been open-minded about it. It's about being pragmatic - there is always time to reconsider things.
"The existing trees offer more canopy shade than what the avenue of trees will produce."
The shift in thinking comes after KentOnline revealed there was uncertainty as to whether Kent County Council would grant permission for the trees to be axed.
When championing their removal, the city council stressed how the trees had “outgrown their situation” - but now the authority has had a change of heart.
Leader of the opposition Dave Wilson (Lab) said: "Given he [Cllr Fitter-Harding] so vehemently argued against saving the trees previously, I guess it shows he has as many scruples as Boris Johnson.
"We're in a pre-election phase, and he's simply trying to cover his tracks.
"We would welcome a decision to save the trees, as would everyone else in Canterbury. If only they listened originally when everyone was first against it."
As part of the redesign, new seating around the existing trees - and in other locations in the high street - is proposed.
One new semi-mature tree would also be planted near to Marks and Spencer to "create some balance to the street design in the long-term".
In a report to councillors published today, officers say the stretch between Metro Bank and Superdrug will still be repaved as originally planned.
The layout would "still provide a usable events space" for events such as Pride and the Medieval Pageant to utilise.
Revised plans for street lighting will be formulated, with a "combination of new columns and existing wall-mounted units to try to reduce the number of dark areas created by the dense canopies of the existing trees".
Cabinet member for place, Cllr Barbara Anne Flack, said: "While there seems to be general agreement that St George's Street is desperately in need of a substantial makeover, there has been opposition to the loss of the trees and uncertainty about whether the county council would grant permission for their removal.
"We have therefore taken a fresh look at the entire scheme and developed a set of proposals that allows the trees to not only remain, but also hopefully flourish, and also gives us the chance to deliver the improvements to St George's Street that will enhance the city centre for years to come."
The news has been welcomed by Green Party member Anna Peckham, who has long campaigned for the trees to be saved.
"I would be absolutely delighted if they were to stay - it's the sensible option," she said.
"It would be very odd especially in a climate emergency to cut down mature trees, just to replace them with smaller ones.
"They provide a lovely canopy and seating could be put in around them.
"It's very good news for the climate, birds and people in the city."
Councillors on the overview and scrutiny committee will discuss the new proposals at a meeting next Thursday.
A final decision will then be taken in July.