Bristol Trees in Crisis – Conservatives’ Press release

Conservative Councillor, John Goulandris, is challenging the controversial decision to slash the Authority’s annual funding for street tree maintenance.

Earlier this year, news broke that Council spending on the upkeep of roadside trees was being cut drastically by £187k (from £240k to £53k) as part of wider savings planned for the highways budgets.

Critics have argued that this draconian measure was brought in without proper consultation and without taking  any advice from professionals like the Council’s own in-housearboriculturalists and important advisory local bodies such as the Bristol Tree Forum.

Furthermore, they suggest that this apparent cost saving measure could well prove to be counter-productive in the long term, as poorly maintained trees represent a risk to public safety and may result in an increase in compensation claims for personal injury or damage to property. Short term savings are likely to be more than offset by higher future maintenance costs.

Now, Cllrs  Goulandris and Weston have tabled questions on this issue to the Mayor (and a formal resolution) for the next Members’ Forum and Full Council, to be held on Tuesday, 18th July.

Cllr Goulandris (Stoke Bishop) said:

“The level of public concern over this appalling decision is quite extraordinary.

Equally shocking has been the total lack of transparency in arriving at this saving. Specific details of the proposal – passed by the Mayor’s Labour colleagues in February – appear to have been hidden under a very broad heading of planned reductions in the Highways maintenance budget.

The lack of consultation over the efficacy of this move is also extremely worrying. Not consulting even the Council’s in house tree experts beggars belief and casts serious doubt on the credibility of the proposed savings.

Many residents have approached us to say that, if the Highways Department has to make savings, this should come from cutting back on expensive, over-engineered traffic schemes and installations rather than the essential upkeep of our street trees.

Slashing funding on tree management sends out a strange, contradictory message from this Administration, especially when Bristol only recently handed over its mantle of European Green Capital.

Therefore, we intend to urge the Mayor to rethink this daft idea and reinstate the funding, until a proper analysis of this proposal has been undertaken and a sensible new street tree policy adopted.”

Questions from Councillor John Goulandris:

Street Tree Budget 

Q1.         At a meeting of the Bristol Tree Forum on 4th July, held at City Hall, senior highways officers admitted that they had not consulted the Council’s in-house arboriculturalists, when setting the budget for street tree maintenance. They also admitted that they had no expertise in tree management or tree maintenance budgeting.  Is the Mayor comfortable that this approach to setting the reduced street tree budget is reasonable, rational and prudent?

Q2.         Tree professionals have opined that, if street trees are not subject to regular maintenance e.g. pollarding, this short term approach stores up costly problems for the future.

Is the Mayor fully satisfied that the short term savings identified by reducing the street tree budget will not be more than offset by rising costs in future years?

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Questions from Councillor Mark Weston

Street Trees and the environment

Q1.         Mature trees absorb a huge amount of CO2 and mature street trees in particular help to combat air pollution in our cities.  Does the Mayor agree that Bristol’s street trees play an important role in improving our environment and helping air quality?

Q2.         If mature street trees are not maintained responsibly, their uncontrolled growth can cause problems, given their proximity to houses and the highway. As a result of the reduction in the street tree budget, a ‘simple’ solution to future street tree management may be the felling of mature street trees as has happened in Sheffield. This has a devastating impact on both the street scene and air pollution.  It would also send out a very curious, contradictory environmental message from a recent European Green Capital City. Will the Mayor give his commitment not to fell Bristol’s street trees?

Motion to be moved by Councillor John Goulandris

SAVING BRISTOL’S STREET TREES

“Council is extremely concerned about the hasty decision by Highways drastically to reduce – by 78% – departmental spending on the Street Tree Management Programme.

This move is said to be part of wider savings to be achieved within the highways maintenance budget. However, there seems to have been no prior consultation either within the Council with tree officers or externally with residents and other stakeholders. It would appear that no proper consideration has been given to the efficacy of such action or whether such savings are sustainable.  For example, the relevant line in the Mayor’s budget last February simple states ‘reduce revenue funding by £1.7m’.  This clearly does not articulate sufficiently how such a saving proposal was to be made or the likely impact it could have on the city’s treescape.

Council seriously questions the wisdom of such a sudden and massive spending cut on essential tree maintenance, which raises issues over public safety, increased pollution, damage to roads, pavements and property, as well as leading to a potential rise in compensatory insurance claims and payments. Short term savings in year 1 could well be outweighed by long term costs in future years.

Savings do, of course, have to be found by Bristol City Council. At a recent public meeting to discuss future street tree maintenance, residents stated that they would much prefer available money being redirected from over engineered traffic management/highways projects e.g.  unnecessary traffic light installations and instead put towards helping to maintain our tree canopy, which is environmentally invaluable in helping to absorb CO2 and maintain air quality.

Accordingly, Council calls on the Mayor to reinstate street tree maintenance funding, until such time as a proper evaluation of the implications of this cut has been undertaken and a new street tree policy – formulated with the help of experienced bodies like the Bristol Tree Forum and the Council’s in house tree officers – is adopted.”

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