Eco campaigner Steve Hughes is behind the Chester Super Trees project, a plan to renovate the unloved and largely abandoned Hoole way roundabout. The trees in question are 5 metre high metallic structures which plants will grow around and through, which Steve saw on David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. “I was really inspired!” says Steve, and the idea slowly took shape to introduce the trees, which are currently only located in Singapore to this forgotten part of Chester. The subway area itself has a low footfall due to the pedestrian crossing towards Brook street and also the closure of one of the exits to allow construction of the bus interchange. Alongside landscaping of the area, the trees, roughly the height of a standard lamp post, with climbing plants within the structure, also featuring solar powered LED lights which would transform the area at night.
Steve, who works as a polymer chemist is keen to champion environmental issues through the trees project, as he explains. “One of the problems when I start to talk about environmental issues in Chester is its always very detached. People think its about the great barrier reef or the arctic tundra, its all a million miles away from where they are. I wanted to make something local. The trees themselves provide an environment in a city which wouldn’t normally exist to allow a certain type of plant life to grow, increasing the biodiversity. ”
Steve was able to speak to the council about his idea and the Super Trees were then officially adopted as part of the regeneration plans for the area as outlined in the One City Plan. Steve is currently fundraising for the 25k cost of the project and recently completed 7 marathons in 7 days (in 7 countries) which raised £3700 towards the funding goal. The council themselves have yet to commit any funds. although various other bodies have pledged donations including Steve’s employer Itaconix, and Santuary Housing, Chester community energy, Adam Dandy and Transition Chester.
Given recent publicity about air pollution in the city, Steve says although the production of the trees (from recycled metal) will result in some carbon output, “in terms of immediate air quality any time you increase the life that’s in there you will reduce the carbon. Also within the trees themselves and thanks to a grant from Chester Round Table, there will be carbon monitors and also a weather station. ” Chester Zoo have also committed to using the space to talk to people about bio diversity and to use the data gathered to talk about environmental issues. The trees are roughly the height of a standard lamp post, with climbing plants within the trees structure and LED lights powered by solar panels another key feature.
Following an informal meeting at Commonhall social as well as a GFN Chester “hack” there will be a community consultation is taking place next week at the Catholic Club on Brook street on Thursday from 6 til 730. Steve will be present to answer any questions with all opinions and feedback welcomed. So far support has been wide across social media and from local groups, although the idea has not yet been tested with the public at large. A common feature of Chester’s social media mob is critics complaining after a decision has been taken or failing to participate in consultations, and responding negatively afterwards. A wider consultation may be needed if the council deem that the trees require planning permission which Steve says is currently being discussed.
Another concern noted by Steve is the long term management of the area. He says that Chester Zoo will be using the space and doing some maintenance alongside the council. He is also talking to the Conservation Volunteers, Friends of the Earth and the Green Gym; “its been going for decades and there is now one in Chester, instead of going to the gym people will go gardening” A community garden element is also included in the plans. To critics who might argue the futuristic looking eco sculptures don’t fit in with the “historic city” Steve comments that the sandstone bricks planned for the surrounding areas as the same as used in the recently refurbished King Charles’ Tower gardens. Also there is a talk of a sculpture of racecourse founder Henry Gee to be sited here which would be part of the proposed “history trail” which Steve and Adam Dandy have been discussing with Cwac. This and other sculptures of historic Cestrians such as Russ Abbot, or Orville the duck, could be funded by commercial or public sponsorship
Summing up the exciting and ambitious project, which has brought together many groups and businesses Steve says that his main aims are “to increase the biodiversity in the city for plants, butterflies and bugs” and associated planting to provide pollinators. “On top of that I want to engage as many community groups as possible, as soon as people are engaged in something , they feel they’ve invested and start to think more about environmental issues and how they can improve things in their day to day lives.” Steve hopes that the trees will be in place by the spring of 2019, and whilst their is still further funds to raise, he is very optimistic give the support so far, as well as the council’s quick adoption of his idea. “I started this tiny snowball and now its a huge project!”
Community Consultation: Brook st Catholic Club 15 Feb 6pm
for further information see http://chestersupertrees.org.uk/
You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/allthesevens
Thanks to Kate Northcott