The Prom’s old chestnuts were facing the chop
CHELTENHAM’S Promenade could become an avenue of death if its over-mature trees are left as they are.
This was the dramatic first paragraph of the Gloucestershire Echo’s front page story 41 years ago today.
It followed a report carried out by Tree Conservation Ltd, a firm of arboriculture consultants, that had been commissioned by the borough council.
The findings made grim reading. The recommendation was that seven trees, including four large horse chestnuts outside the Municipal Offices, should be felled as a matter of urgency.
For many years an iconic feature of Cheltenham’s premier thoroughfare, the chestnuts were planted in 1818.
Their state of health had been monitored for some while showing the growth rate was in decline.
A director of the arboreal specialists Mr P G Biddle pointed out to members of the borough council’s trees subcommittee that: “The growth rate is of particular significance for horse chestnuts, which have a notorious reputation for unpredictably dropping branches.”
He continued: “Branch failure is likely to occur at any time, not necessarily during storm conditions and there is often little or no evidence of decay or other weakness”.
A weighty bough had fallen from one of the chestnuts just a month or two before, said Mr Biddle.
A suggestion from one of the committee members that cables could be used to secure potentially dangerous branches was rejected.
Not only would this be impractical, said the report, it would also mean remodelling the trees, destroying their aesthetic appearance.
So what should replace the chestnuts?
Not more chestnuts came the reply. A species with a less dense canopy would be better, such as planes.
Driving home his point, Mr Biddle drew attention to the borough council’s legal liability.
“It should be noted that the risks of a falling branch causing an accident either to a pedestrian or cars parked or moving beneath the trees is very high and that the council has been fortunate to avoid such an accident in the past” he said.
The debate rumbled on, but there was general agreement that after gracing the Prom for a century and a half, time was running out for Cheltenham’s venerable chestnuts.
The Promenade in 1964
The scene in the 1930s, above, and below in 1949