Work to remove trees in a Kettering public garden to make way for the £3.9 million makeover of Kettering’s library, museum and art gallery has started today (Thursday).
Plans to remove more trees had been scaled back after protests by campaigners and an online petition garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
Kettering Council bosses had new plans drawn up after proposals for several trees to be chopped down to make way for the cultural quarter extension upgrade project.
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Despite public uproar and environmental concerns from Extinction Rebellion activists, Kettering Green Party and supporters of the petition, an 18-metre-high Scots Pine to the east side of the gallery is being felled to make way for the extension and a large silver birch tree has already been cut down.
An eleventh-hour bid to place a tree preservation order (TPO) on the two trees set for the chop was handed in to Kettering Council yesterday but to no avail.
Laura Currie on behalf of Save Kettering's Heritage Quarter Trees said: "I received the rejection email for the TPO to coincide with the first branch being felled on the Scots Pine.
"They rejected the request for the two individual trees to have a TPO put on them and also the request for the whole Heritage quarter to have a TPO because planning permission has already been approved.
"As they have pointed out, during the phase two process some of the trees might still need to be felled.
"It’s an emotional day for the supporters and the group at Saves Kettering’s Heritage Quarter.
"As a collective group, we had never done anything like this before.
"In fact, prior to this we’d never even met before. It has certainly been a learning curve.
"But our dedication and compassion has shone through and we put our hearts and souls into this campaign.
"It’s incredibly disappointing and some of the group today were too distraught to go and watch the trees come down.
"With the current Covid restrictions, we just weren’t able to do any protesting on site.
"We have a lot to be proud of and it’s an amazing victory that we were able to save around 80 per cent of the original trees to be felled.
"This experience has empowered us and our campaigning doesn’t stop today.
"We will make sure that the two trees haven’t been felled in vain and will continue to monitor and engage with the council over phase two of the project.
"Thank you to all the people who have supported, advised, cared and loved."
A Kettering Council spokesman in a written response to the call for the TPO said :'' As planning permission has already been granted and their (the trees) removal is allowed without further consent then a Tree Preservation Order would not overturn this planning permission.
"The assessment of the value of the trees has been made during the determination of the planning application and it is unfortunately that these two trees are needed to be removed, however a commitment has been made to replant similar trees elsewhere."
A petition set up supporting the request to save the trees currently stands at 1,030 signatures and the ‘Save Kettering’s Heritage Quarter Trees’ on Facebook has 539 members.
A Kettering Council spokesman said: "Two trees are being removed as part of the preparatory works for the gallery and library extension, as allowed by the planning permission for these works.
"The Council has been able to radically reduce the number of trees affected by the work so that these are the only trees that will be removed. Some other trees can be safely transplanted elsewhere in the gardens and a replacement tree programme, and new landscaping plan, is being devised, which will be the subject of consultation."
Planning for the upgrade including a £867,000 to be spent on internal refurbishment of the library plus another £300,000 on a new roof was approved by councillors back in January.
The three adjacent Grade II listed buildings in Sheep Street which are collectively labelled GLaM (Kettering Gallery, Library and Museum) will be renovated to create a ‘cultural anchor’ for North Northamptonshire.
£1.6 million will be spent on an extension to the Alfred East Art Gallery with another £163,000 spent on an internal renovation.
Dez Dell from Kettering Green Party said: "It's a real shame that these two mature trees are being felled.
"The Save Kettering’s Heritage Quarter Trees group has done an amazing job and they have saved many of the trees.
"The council didn't have to change any of the plans, but for the big Scots Pine it was obvious."
It is believed that the Scots Pine is 100-years-old whilst the silver birch was 40-years-old.
The bulk of the cash has come from a £3 million grant from the government’s Get Building fund, after a bid through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) with a further £640,000 from Kettering Council’s reserves and Northamptonshire County Council has also given £300,000.