Death by a thousand cuts

Without any public consultation, officers from Bristol City Council Highways department have decided to reduce the Council’s street tree maintenance budget from around £240,000 to just £53,000 – a cut of some 78%.

This is part of a overall package of measures that the council has adopted to enable it to cut its overall budget by £104 million by 2020, as required by the government.

As the consequence, the Council will no longer guarantee having staff available to respond to out-of-hours and non-emergency tree-related incidents, if at all.

The regime of pollarding street trees every two to three years has also been abandoned. The Council accepts that, as a consequence there is likely to be ‘an increase in successful subsidence claims brought against the authority’ as it will not have ‘implemented a reasonable cyclical pruning programme in accordance with prevailing practice…(Robbins vs London Borough of Bexley 2012). Have the Council’s lawyers been told?

The effect of this is likely to be that, if there are any safety concerns in future about a particular tree, then the default solution will be to fell it rather than proactively manage the tree by pruning or pollarding it.

The Council’s flagship tree replacement sponsorship scheme has also been abandoned so Bristolians will no longer have any way of replacing their lost street trees.

Bristol has more that 66,000 public trees, many of which are street trees. The inevitable consequence of the Council’s short-sighted decision can only mean that its population of street trees will, sooner or later, decline.

When challenged by Councillor Clive Stevens why these cuts were being implemented, the Council replied:

The council is facing significant budget pressures and has to cut back a number of services as a result of this…Tree roots can cause a trip hazard in the same way that a broken or loose paving slab can….The changes proposed largely bring Tree Maintenance in line with other highway maintenance routines, reacting to defects as we are notified of them. As with any asset there is a balance between short-term needs and expenditure and longer-term costs. With the highways maintenance budget as a whole we have tried to strike a balance for the needs of all asset types and likely costs of defects have been included in these considerations.

So there you have it, trees are just ‘asset types’ like paving slabs – subject to becoming defective, of no greater value and as easily replaced.

Really? Let’s hope our Bristol street trees have got the message and will behave themselves in future like their inert paving slab cousins!

Here are the details of the Council’s recent Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission  held last Monday, 24th April 2017 together with the Council’s answers to the questions raised. Here is the the Tree Forum’s Statement with Questions raised with the Commission.

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