Trees are beautiful, trees help oxygenate the planet, trees are crucial in the fight against climate change. Who on earth would want to harm a tree? Certainly not people such as arboreculturists who have chosen this career due to their love of trees. However, at Somerset County Council workers are being put into this position by cutbacks and budget restraints. Following a public outcry when trees at Bridgwater’s Hamp Green Rise were threatened with felling this month, County ward Councillor Leigh Redman and Town Council Leader Brian Smedley, met with County officers today (Friday 17 May) and agreed a further stay of execution on the trees and an agreement for a public summit on the entire subject of the County and Districts tree felling policy. The summit meeting was set for Tuesday 4th June at 7pm at Bridgwater Town Hall. Specialists will be present and the public are encouraged to attend.
After the meeting Cllr Smedley said “We wanted to get the officers to repair the trees in questions and not take them away altogether. We wanted to get them to agree that if trees were removed that they would be replaced. We wanted to ensure that residents and their elected representatives were engaged in a full consultation before trees were removed . And we wanted to find out if all of the above wasn’t possible what exactly was the scale of the potential devastation across the county and could it be stopped. What we found out didn’t make good listening, but we’re not accepting it and as we on Town Council set out our environmental policy and aim to influence the higher local authorities that have to deliver these we want to make sure the public are united, know the facts and are part of the solution.”
Scale of the Problem
“We were told that County Tree officers have a statutory duty to repair or remove trees which after inspection show inevitable decline and failure and then are a risk to the public. This couldn’t wait until a branch fell off and hit a member of the public. And we accept that trees need maintenance and care. However we were told that one reason that maintenance and repair was no longer an easy option was because of County budget cuts. If we wanted trees and a tree maintenance programme the County had to be pressured into putting money back into that pot. We were told that they didn’t have a policy of replacing trees because they didn’t have the budget. And we were told that they couldn’t tell people about every endangered tree because they didn’t have the staff resources or time. And that was due to budget cuts. The officers can’t be political. They have to operate with the resources given them by the ruling group -in this case Conservative- on Somerset County Council. “
“So what are the solutions? Well, one solution for them is to ask the 2nd and 3rd tier councils to help them out of their budget problems. They gave an example where in Minehead trees along the Avenue had fallen and they were discussing with Minehead Town Council passing the responsibility to them. This is of course an option – but an expensive and unfair one, as Somerset is the strategic authority for the county with the largest tax base and responsibility for delivery and the simple truth is they should have budgetted properly knowing what services they had to deliver. We have potholes, we have cuts in social service provision and we now we have falling trees that aren’t being replaced.”
County Councillor Leigh Redman said “The thing is we can’t let this happen and so we have to be part of the solution. This is why this potential Treemageddon is going to be the sole item on our Town Development Forum meeting to be held on June 4th at Bridgwater Town Hall. We want everyone who wants to be part of this solution to come to that meeting and help us redefine Somerset’s policy on trees, and turn this whole thing around so we can serious say we are fighting climate change by using nature as the principle medicine. Please come along and support us.”
Councillor Redman was tasked with monitoring the situation with the trees in Hamp Green Rise and was given assurances that nothing would happen in the foreseeable future until all avenues had been explored.
Town Councillor Li Gibson has now set up a series of Climate Change Forums and the first will be at the Town Hall on Monday 17th June.
County Council officer Karin Harwood, senior manager for their Engineering Programmes said that there would be more bad news when the full implication of Ashdieback became clearer. Already this had cost Devon county council over £2m and 1,000s of trees were being affected.
County Highways Arboreculturist Ben Coles, whose first job in his new post was to deal with the Hamp Green Rise crisis, said that he didn’t get involved to destroy trees and wanted to help find ways to prevent this by finding solutions and would help with all his skills and experience to indicate appropriate species, give advice on planting techniques and help source projects which could help fund a planting programme.
The Tree Summit will be on Tuesday 4th june 7pm at Bridgwater Town Hall. Ben and Karin will both be present.