The fate of the seven trees currently rooted in Cathedral Square appears to have been sealed given Waterford City Council’s plans for the area.
However, the Council’s Environmental Services Director has moved to quell public fears that City Hall has ‘turned its back on nature’ in the oldest part of Waterford.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Colette Byrne said the redevelopment of the Square was an integral element of the city’s Viking Triangle project and would house the memorial of ‘Boy Soldier’ John Condon.
With that in mind, the trees on the Square are unlikely to survive, but at the April Council meeting, Ms Byrne stated: “No final decision has been made.”
It is clear, given previous comments on the issue by City Manager Michael Walsh that the Executive is in favour of removing the trees, a move which has concerned readers and Councillors alike.
But Ms Byrne is adamant that any future decision would be made with the benefit of horticultural advice which the Council has availed of over the past two years.
She added: “Planting today in a streetscape, thanks to the benefit of advice from horticulturalists and best practice, means that we as an authority are better informed when it comes to selecting suitable trees for planting in an urban setting.
“There are several issues which require consideration, such as how the trees will affect the footpath, public lighting and so on, so there’s a lot of thought put into where we plant and, more specifically, what we plant.”
While no design plans for the redeveloped Cathedral Square have yet been drawn, it’s expected that the relevant drawings will be provided to the Council in the near future.
These will be included in the Part 8 planning process for the area which is expected to be brought before Councillors this summer.
So, in the event of the trees being removed, shall they in turn be replaced by trees considered more suitable for streetscape planting?
“Whether we replace them or not, right now we don’t know,” Ms Byrne admitted. “We have to explore how and where best the John Condon Memorial will be accommodated within the Square. So whether we replace them is a matter we have not yet looked at.”
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Councillor Seamus Ryan (Labour) said the development of the Viking Triangle Tourist Walk would help to revitalise Cathedral Square, where famed city architect John Roberts once resided.
“However, I would question whether there is a need to remove all of the trees,” he stated.
“While I welcome the John Condon Memorial that will be developed on the Square, it would, taking the Memorial into account, be preferable to see some of the existing trees, perhaps the smaller ones, being retained.”
Referring to the creation of an 18th Century-themed garden adjoining the Bishop’s Palace (currently a car park), Colette Byrne said the future look of the area could well be ‘greener’ than its current guise.
“Returning the car park to nature at the Bishop’s Palace is going to be a positive development,” she said.
“We will be planting eight semi-mature trees in from of the new Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre on The Mall to replace the trees we had to remove there during the course of the construction work as well as accommodating future coach set-down and drop-off.
“If anything, taking all the work in the area into account, we’re actually committed to a far greater ‘greening’ of the entire area – the work going at present provides us with an opportunity to commit to further planting.
“We’re also going to plant trees in the Bolton Street car park, where there are no trees at the moment, so I think the steps we’re making in this regard are all positive.”
Where older trees are removed, as they have been on The Mall in recent years, it is City Council policy to replace them with semi-mature trees.
In a draft Tree Management Policy published in April 2009, the trees on Cathedral Square were not listed among the 53 sets of city trees designated as being of ‘Special Amenity Value’.