Tree maintenance cuts are challenged

July 28 2017

THE issue of cuts to the Street Trees budget was raised by Green councillor Carla Denyer at the Members’ Forum in a Full Council meeting.

THE issue of cuts to the Street Trees budget was raised by Green councillor Carla Denyer at the Members’ Forum in a Full Council meeting.

Councillor Denyer submitted joint questions to the Mayor with Green Councillor Clive Stevens which noted several issues raised by the Bristol Tree Forum:

The Council’s Highways Department did not consult the Council’s arboricultural officers, the Tree Forum or any other relevant experts about street trees before making their decision to reduce the budget by 78%, which would effectively mean ceasing most tree maintenance.

The Highways department are justifying cuts by saying that they will maintain the minimum statutory service, regularly checking trees every few years, however, this is not cost-efficient as regular pollarding would be cheaper (a point on which horticultural experts agree).

There has been no costed business case or risk assessment for the budget cuts.

The last point may be particularly significant as cuts to tree maintenance could potentially result in public damages, for example caused by trees falling on property, subsidence or people tripping over exposed roots, which the council could then be liable for.

Councillor Denyer also asked the Mayor whether the Council’s insurer (Zurich) was consulted over the decision to cut tree maintenance, and whether the insurance would remain valid to cover claims following the budget reductions. The Mayor was unable to answer the question, and promised a response in writing (at the time of writing this had not been received).

Earlier in July the Bristol Tree Forum held an open meeting at City Hall as they are very concerned about maintaining budgets and street trees. The meeting was so well-attended with people from Cotham, Redland, Stoke Bishop and all over the city turning up that a larger room had to be found. Stressing that the Bristol Tree Forum remains a ‘friend’ of the Council, speakers pointed out how the current decision to cut budgets without consultation has blown away all trust.

The Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig confirmed that due to budget cuts, there is now only £53,000 each year for tree management, so the council will be no longer be undertaking any pollarding on the city’s population of street trees. There will also be a termination of epicormic removal which will now only be removed when reported on the grounds of Health and Safety. 

Later in the meeting the Highways manager when questioned several times finally admitted that this decision had been taken without any consultation or advice from the City’s Arboricultural team.

Cllr Asher Craig said: “I’m not immune to concerns of the Tree Forum. We are in a very challenging situation - facing some difficult decisions. We weren’t expecting to be facing the financial cliff edge we did when Marvin took over in May.

“£53,000 will result in discontinuing tree pollarding. We are looking at all options including a lottery, donations similar to the Manchester model and crowd funding. We are not planning on cutting down any trees anytime soon. We want to work with you. I want to rebuild the trust.”

In the last week local Streetscene volunteers have been out in Cotham and Redland cutting back epicormic growth from local trees (all the shoots at the base of the trunk).  

Redland Cllr Martin Fodor said: “We need to thank our local street scene volunteers as without them only the barest action is being promised in future unless these cuts are rethought.

“I've been contacted about two street trees in the last few weeks, both raising issues that the end of street tree maintenance highlights: in one case an unsafe tree, spotted through the planned tree works (now proposed to be abolished) which would therefore not lead to scheduled unsafe tree removal. This could then lead to exactly the kind of accident and insurance claim that would help wipe out the budget saving that's been assumed. 

“The other is an example of the need for a tree maintenance budget, as a resident who relies on a mobility scooter was almost thrown from the scooter by tree root damage to a pavement. Planned maintenance would help reduce this risk, as regular pruning, while sometimes controversial and savage to the street scene, does slow tree growth and reduce the onset of damage. Fortunately in this case i was able to get highways to agree to repair the pavement to reduce the risk of tipping over a mobility scooter.

“These examples highlight the need for preventive maintenance budgets which in the long term should save money and also secure all the health and well being benefits of street trees.”