What is going on in Alexandra Park?

So in a week when protestors take to the trees in the park to stop felling work, we have a look at both sides of the planned development.

Green space and parks are so precise in our city. Even an “underused” park like Alexandra Park will be used and loved by many. A quick walk around the park, which is bordered by Moss Side and Whalley Range, you will see that there are areas of neglect, particularly the buildings and facilities.

So development is needed and timely, but what kind of development is wanted and appropriate. What are the real concerns, desires and needs of the users and future users of the park? As an environmental and community organisation we are always going to look for Climate Change adaptation, biodiversity, equality and social cohesion to be at the top of every proposal.

As always in our society, the way these situations play out is so heavy bias towards those who have the money, in this case Manchester City Council and The Lottery Heritage Fund. For me there are two outcomes I would like to see from this. First, why does the Lottery Heritage not hold the principles above as important as restoration. They have a huge resource to call on and massive potential to be part of the solution. For them to not demand biodiversity and Climate Change adaptation into every investment they make is morally unjust.

Secondly, how does Manchester City Council learn from this and improve its consultation process. I would love to see them acknowledge that since there are people who are willing to put their own bodies in the way, of what they passionately feel is inappropriate in their community; this indicates there is a problem. The council’s figures show that 1773 people have been consulted during the funding application process. Were the right questions asked? Were the responses communicated well enough? I have been surprised by the amount of concern for the situation in the park, especially from outside the usual suspects of the “green movement”.

The debate will always be there to whether new investment in an area is more important than the disruption to the current residents and users. And it is evident that we have a long way to go in valuing our biodiversity. Manchester Climate Monthly, have an interesting response to the tree loss with good debate.

It is never going to be as simple as to spend the money or not, cut the tree’s down or not. The park definitively needs the money; otherwise £4.5m would never have been made available. As always it’s a question of scale and appropriateness, as this seemingly rational quote from Ian Brewer suggests “We’re not in favour of six tennis courts though, clearing the ground for that many courts means taking out about 30 mature ash trees. If they put four courts in they could do that without taking out any trees so I don’t know why they’re insisting on six.” from Manchester Confidential. Isn’t this kind of compromise that community consultation is all about?

Back the trees.


There is no doubt that the image of all the felled Sycamore trees does not bring out an emotional response. It also seems that the trees were offering some biodiversity value. A video of the park highlights some of the specific biodiversity niches of the park and its history. The more you read on the subject, the more it seems there is some element of misinformation coming from both sides. The information provided on the tree felling from the Manchester City Council is below. I would like to have the justifications of the felling examined, with the outcome of its authenticity used as a template for further felling within the whole city not just Alexandra Park.

I have always been inspired by the direct action element that has always been so prevalent in Manchester’s history. As a pragmatic activist I see the resulting direct action as an indicator that a lot more is yet to be done.

Information from Manchester City Council on tree felling:

Terrace_lowHow many trees are being removed?

Overall, 90% of the tree stock in the park will be retained.   Alexandra Park covers an area of 60 acres; it has a stock of 1590 individual trees and 12 groups of mixed broadleaved trees within the boundary walls meaning the park is oversubscribed with trees.  Whilst some have been planted many are self sown and have developed within shrubberies which are dense, creating areas of the park which people have expressed concerns over personal safety.

As part of the restoration 258 trees will be removed; 53 of these have been identified in the tree survey as needing to be removed for arboricultural reasons including being poor quality specimens; 58 trees will be removed to address issues of personal safety.  Other trees will make way for new park facilities as part of the restoration.

92 trees will be planted in the park including varieties already present such as Lime,  London Plane, Poplar, Hornbeam and Cherry and adding new species such as  Whitebeam, Rowan, Apple, Plum, Fig and Pear trees bringing greater diversity to the tree species in the park.  Also being planted is 7000m2 of a variety of plants and shrubs creating an area rich in flowering plants and berries essential to improving the biodiversity in the park and a home for wildlife.

The raised terrace comprises mainly sycamore and maple trees that were planted in the 1970’s.These particular non-native trees are considered to be highly invasive and have limited conservation value according to the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit. The reason for felling the trees in this location is to restore the terrace as an open raised area with wide footpaths, colourful planting displays and views across the rest of the park. The location and dense canopies of the existing trees does not enable the introduction of footpaths or planting. Replanting in the park now will help to secure the future of the park, providing variety in the age of the plants. 


These are the words of Matthew Rowe, a member of Envirolution, and are not a representation of Envirolution as an organisation.


7 thoughts on “What is going on in Alexandra Park?”

  1. Where trees are present on a development site, best arboricultural practice is to comply with the principal national document concerning trees and development – BS 5837:2012 Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations. If you look at the Manchester City Council online planning page for this development, their ‘tree survey’ is actually a tree hazard evaluation survey, not a BS:5837 survey. Why is the Council not complying with British Standards introduced to balance the needs of tree care with those of development?

  2. If an area of land meets the legal definition of woodland, it is woodland, that is a proper, evidence-based approach. The Council can’t just say ‘it isn’t a woodland park,’ when all the evidence shows that the park does contain areas of woodland and other semi-natural wildlife habitats.

    Because parts of the park are woodland, the Council should be managing those parts as woodland.
    Best practice steps for managing woodland – guidance for planners.

  3. I’m sure the answer to this question should be in the Planning Statement for this project. However I’ve looked at the statement and the info isn’t there.

    There is no explicit statement in the project giving an (approx) number of trees to be felled.

    The felling rationale (IMHO) is also not clear/cohesive when reading the statement. The “lack of biodiversity” explanation is not backed up by the 2010 tree survey which does not indicate a significant lack of diversity. The tree survey also does not seem to indicate any significant excess of unhealthy/diseased trees. There is mentioning of “thinning operations” but I do not believe most people would equate “thinning” to felling on the scale taking place (ie upwards of 10%) and thinning most definately does not equate to almost complete deforestation at the N end, which is what drawing D131812/LD/SK/115 seems to indicate.

    IMHO these issues should have been picked up on by the various project stakeholders during review of the proposal plans.

    For example: D131812/LD/SK/115 (the plan which is supposed to detail the felling) has an incomplete Key and as a result, it’s not clear what is happening to a large number of identified trees (those identified with blue circles).. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could review this documents and not spot that glaring error as it makes it impossible to review the plan.
    I also would have thought anyone reviewing it would have asked for clarification of what “non-native species” means in a Victorian Park. They may also have pointed out that the plans for the N end of the park (large scale removal) do not reflect the stated “Thinning rationale” at the top of the plan.

  4. A response to this article and it’s comments from the Deborah Marsden of Manchester City Council’s Community and Cultural Services, who is overseeing the Alexandra Park development.

    The tree survey was undertaken 2010, before the current BS was issued. It was undertaken on the basis to provide suitable information on tree conditions that would enable an informed approach to vegetation that could be removed for health and safety reasons, enable the design team and client to make informed decisions about retention and removal as part of the master plan and detail design proposals and would be appropriate for a planning application. The contractor is carrying out tree felling in accordance with current guidance and best practice and will be erecting tree protection fencing before the main building works are undertaken to appropriate areas where there will be an impact from excavations, plant and machinery and within the constraints of the site conditions. Best practice will be maintained during the construction process to protect the trees in close proximity to these works.

    I have also read your article, thank you for bringing it to my attention and providing me with the opportunity to comment, it does come across as a balanced piece.

    I would like to give you an update on the tree information as it currently stands for your information: In direct response to the views raised during consultation, changes have been made, and continue to be made to the plans. It is clear for example that the natural aspect of the park is very important to park users. In direct response to this the original plans were amended to create separately zoned areas within the park.

    The restored park will have a Community Zone, a Natural Zone, and a Formal Zone. These changes to the original plans were introduced after listening and acting on what local people want in their park. Although Alexandra Park is a Grade II registered park, there is no intention to take the park back to its Victorian design. By creating separate zones it is going to be possible to create a fantastic park fit for modern day demands.

    We recognise the challenges that go with trying to satisfy everyone, and accept that with extensive landscape changes, including tree felling, there is going to be debate.

    There are 1590 trees in the park. Overall, 90% of the trees will be retained with 92 new trees being planted as part of the restoration. We have planning consent for the removal of 265 individual trees. However, as a result of regular design review and on-site mitigation during the works the current individual tree removal count is down to 247. We have also taken a decision to reduce the number of new tennis courts being provided by the project from six to four and it is likely that we will be able to retain a further 15 trees in the location designated for the new courts. This decision was as a direct result of concerns raised locally and not taken lightly bearing in mind that the six court approach was fully funded by the Lawn Tennis Association. Overall this brings the current individual tree removal total down to 232 (12.5% reduction), with potentially more to come as we move through this phase of work.

    We also have planning consent for the removal of 3,763m² of shrub/scrub/trees. These are considered very dense, impenetrable areas which are quantified by a hatched area on the planning drawing. As indicated, there will be tree removal within these areas as necessary, and 93 of these individual trees and 1 tree group are outlined within the document submitted to planning. We have had to take this approach due to the density of shrub and scrub in these areas, but essentially we have planning consent for the worse case scenario. We have sought to mitigate this and our consultant design team are liaising with the sub-contractors on an area to area basis regarding the extent of tree removals in these areas against the overall vision for the new park. This means that if this can be achieved by removing under-storey shrub/scrub only, then the trees in this area will be retained. This approach has already resulted in one of the thicket areas being opened up through ground clearance only and leaving the 6 trees in place.

    We have agreed with the recommendation of the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, in the production of the park’s Biodiversity Master Plan, that we should retain some of the wooded wetland area which has developed naturally next to the raised terrace. This will again mean less trees and ground cover being removed, we will however ensure that the area has some access routes around it and interpretation signage for the park users.

    58 of the trees being removed are to create safer, more visible areas in direct response to public consultation. The park is a safe park but the restoration works will create a busy park for the local community to be proud of. The city council has worked very hard with the local community to raise the £5.5 Million investment for Alexandra Park.

    I hope you find this information useful, if you have any questions please do get in touch.

    Deborah Marsden

  5. Why do the council insist on saying “Overall, 90% of the trees will be retained” when they want to remove 247 of 1590 (15.5%) ?
    Planting a young immature tree is not the same as retaining an old mature tree and the council aren’t fooling anyone with their misrepresentation of the facts here, to me it looks like arrogance rather than ignorance.

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