Street trees under threat

May 30 2017

Bristol is renowned for its leafy streets, especially within the older parts of the city where trees planted in Redland and Cotham over 100 years ago have spread their canopy wide.

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Bristol is renowned for its leafy streets, especially within the older parts of the city where trees planted in Redland and Cotham over 100 years ago have spread their canopy wide.

Future maintenance plans for those trees has led to much anger in the community - the plans have been criticised as poorly thought out, making no economic sense and a threat the reputation of the city as a green and pleasant place to live.

To comply with Bristol City Council’s budget cuts, the street tree management budget for 2017-18 has been cut by 75 per cent, from £240,000 to £53,000 - a reduction of £187,000.

The matter was referred to the Mayor for reconsideration at a Cabinet meeting in May by Cllr  Anthony Negus (LibDem, Cotham), chair of the BCC Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission, Mark Ashton from the Bristol Tree Forum and Cllr  Clive Stevens (Green Party, Clifton Down).

Significant issues were raised about how the lack of pollarding will cause more trip hazards as pavements rise and make it more difficult for parents to push buggies along the pavements and the root growth will undermine walls, causing subsidence to properties.

The very high risk of a branch falling on to a person or injury due to a trip hazard, resulting in insurance claims against the council of £100,000, was explained. It was pointed out that if two of these claims were made in a year, the council will have lost the money saved.

Cllr Negus said: “I drew the attention of Cabinet to a number in the savings column of the highways department that could have a devastating effect for Bristol.

“This figure of £187k represents the difference between maintaining our street trees and leaving them to grow unrestrained and so damaging our footpaths and buildings, increasing insurance claims for injuries and damage. Without an alternative this city will pay dearly until it is forced to cut down our fine trees, as has happened in Sheffield, and leave us poorer in every respect.” 

A significantly reduced budget means that there will be no pollarding of street trees or removal of ‘epicormic’ growth - the shoots that appear around the tree base. Emergency cover outside normal working hours is no longer being provided through the tree management contract and tree management will be limited to felling to address safety risks, despite greater initial costs and the long term consequent loss of tree sites. One felling costs the same as 16 years' maintenance and many more trees will be removed as there will be no maintenance.

There will also be no planting of street trees, either replacement or new, even when cost neutral. In the past Bristol City Council has operated a number of innovative schemes allowing residents or community groups to sponsor replacement or new street trees. Despite fully funding the planting, and maintenance for two years, such planting will no longer be permitted. Currently there is huge support from the community for replacing lost trees.

Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities - the department responsible for trees - said: “Our team are working with highways around risk factors. I am happy to look at this again.”

Mayor Marvin Rees added: “I welcome someone turning up with a solution. In the whole budgeting process we said that this would increase risk. Scrutiny is how this organisation is run. We will pick up the points and take the challenge on.”

Following the meeting Redland Cllr Martin Fodor said:

“The impact of tree management budget cuts was powerfully highlighted in particular by the Bristol Tree Forum when an item on the budget cut proposals was brought to scrutiny at an early stage. The whole point of scrutiny discussions is to allow early debate and comment, especially by stakeholders, in a public space, so that emerging plans can be challenged. 

“The Tree Forum pointed out the cost, amenity and environmental impacts that the supposed budget savings would cause, and made the case for a longer view taking account of the penalties from tree root damage, loss of benefits, and reduced tree cover likely if trees are instead neglected and then felled. This looks very much like a false economy that will cost more.  There are budgets for sponsored tree planting and developer funds that are waiting to be spent but the cost of replanting is likely to go up significantly.”

 Cllr Anthony Negus added: “The Mayor said this will be reconsidered and put out for consultation in the summer. We need to ensure that proposals are re-thought, safe and workable."