EF Language School goes to war on the Hills Road greenery

I was rather hoping this blog had finished with the EF Language School development, which eventually took an incredible fifteen months to complete, against the nine months which we (and indeed the owners) were promised by Mansell Construction Services.

The extension looks reasonable enough, as it did on the plans, but the unexpected disappointment is exactly that – we’re all being forced to look at it. The wooden fencing which surrounded the site for many years has been replaced by see-through railings, and over the last few weeks, there’s been wholesale destruction of the trees and other greenery all around the site. Here’s the view from opposite Cavendish Avenue, comparing the old view with the new.

EF Language School

I believe that the railings were on the plans which went before the council planning committee, so for anyone like me who doesn’t like them, hard luck – we should have spotted it and raised an objection back then. Having to see the students’ bike park, and watching them play table tennis and come outside for a fag break is something which users of Hills Road and Cavendish Avenue are going to have to get used to.

However, the loss of the greenery is more questionable. The plans as submitted to the council showed no change in the trees, and the detailed landscaping plan featured a row of trees at the front which have now been cut back to stumps:


As you can just about see, there’s just a small amount of ground cover which has been put in to replace the bushes which were there before.

Around the corner in Cavendish Avenue, and on the east side of the plot (facing Lady Jane Court), the removal of greenery has been just as savage as at the front. I have written to the council department responsible asking if this destruction of greenery required consent, and if it did, if this consent was given. I have also contacted our only city councillor who was in office when the plans went through – George Pippas – to hear his views.

Even nightfall doesn’t relieve residents from having the building thrust in our faces; in common with so many other commercial buildings, the inside lights are left on at night without a care in the world for the neighbours or the energy usage. As the windows don’t appear to have any blinds or curtains, we get to see every desk and every computer inside.

On a separate matter, the grass verges on Hills Road and in Cavendish Avenue look like a World War I battlefield. Another resident has been chasing this up with the contractors; he told me: “Ironically, I think it was the landscapers? vehicles which did the most damage. The Hills Road verge is massacred, such that it is almost impossible for two pedestrians to pass without stepping in the muddy mess. The Project Manager has just told me that work to reinstate the verges will commence this week. It has not been done sooner because of the wet weather.” That, however, was a week ago. We await developments.

8 Replies to “EF Language School goes to war on the Hills Road greenery”

  1. When the first damage to the verges occurred I contacted the City Council’s Building Control who confirmed the developers knew they were liable to reinstate them when the building was complete. While they should be held to that I wonder if the work will be immediately undone by the new cycle lanes, though I didn’t see the final plans for those.

    On the trees I fear that unless they had preservation orders on them it is unlikely the builders committed any offence even if they let the planning committee assume those trees would remain.

  2. Babraham Road Residents have been equally upset by the wholesale and savage destruction of trees right round the perimeter of the Bell School site. They demanded that the City Tree Officer (Joanna Davies) conduct a joint tour with them and explain the guiding principles of this wanton tree surgery. We received some explanation but, by and large, we were just told “Nanny knows best”!! It was a farce. We then contacted the City Landscape Officer (Dinah Foley-Norman) to find out what the re-planting scheme was and we received a full and courteous response. I advise you do the same. Matters may not prove to be as black as you fear.

  3. Hopefully the brutally pollarded “stumps” will regain foliage, although this may well be on the top part of the trees rather than the lower. Certainly the corner would benefit from some concealing greenery; it is a very brutal aspect for a residential area, especially considering the prices having to be paid for any houses on Hills Road or Cavendish Avenue.

  4. Prompt response from Cllr Pippas:

    “Thank you for making me aware of this issue. I will visit the development to see first hand the extend of the tree and vegetation “carnage” which has taken place.

    “My first reaction is that if memory serves me right, there was no indication in the plans that the trees or vegetation would be trimmed or removed.

    “I can confirm that we as your local councillors did not “knowingly” approve “this removal of trees and vegetation, either to conform with regulations or because it didn’t feature on the approved plans?”. Nor as a planning Councillor for this year have we had this request come in front of us at the planning committee.

    “Regarding your second question (“If the council needed to approve the removal for either reason, was that approval given, and why? Or if it needed to approve the removal but it wasn’t given, what action will be taken?”), I don’t have the answer to hand but I will find out and respond to you.

    “As soon as I hear back from the planning department I will be able to give you an informed answer to your questions.”

  5. If I had been responsible for this development I would have bent over backwards to take the views of neighbours and representatives into consideration. And I do mean the owners of the business, the architect and the project manager.
    The plans seemed perfectly clear & the design of the buildings pleasing to the eye.
    But all to frequently projects are finished badly. This is a classic example. What has taken place is totally unacceptable and saddens me.

    Can I suggest a possible low cost solution for this and similar developments?

    (i) CCC produces a simple contract to protect the grass verges. The owner/contractor working on a premises has to enter into a contract that if they wish to use the grass verge they are charged a fee of ?100. This is used to reinstate the verge to an acceptable standard
    (ii) In this case, as there has been the destruction of greenery, the offending parties are asked to plant a hedge or similar. And their proposal is offered to the Residents Association or whoever represents the offended party so that a suitable screen is created.

    (iii) A bye-law is passed to ensure that the CCC’s carbon foot print is minimized by ensuring that lights in industrial and commercial buildings are extinguished by say 8pm unless permission to do otherwise has been requested.

    I can’t be exact in my proposal but am trying to be constructive in using this example of the uncaring handiwork of three professionals and turning it into a positive gain.


    Bernard Townshend
    PS – sorry it has taken so long to make a comment but have been away from Cambridge rather a lot recently.

  6. It took several weeks (and I suspect more than one request) for Cllr Pippas to get a response from the city council planning department, but this has just come in from Toby Williams, Principal Planner.

    He responds: “With regard to tree removal, I attach the tree constraints plan which shows a number of trees to be removed. I assume these are the trees that have been taken down from the site. As you know, the removal of shrubbery etc. does not require specific planning permission.

    “For the record, I think this development looks great and is of a high quality. New developments often look stark and I am sure it will soften in time.”

    The tree constraints plan is here.

  7. One wonders _why_ they wanted to cut the trees back quite so severely? And Dr Silverston – I went past the Bell perimeter recently and was very surprised that a large area of undergrowth had been grubbed up. I would like to hear more about why that was done and what is planned to replace it. It was ‘only’ brambly, shrubby hedge, but it was mature and several metres wide, no doubt the wildlife appreciated it, and it was an effective screen. Why not keep it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *