CROYDON IN CRISIS: Chop! Chop! The bankrupt council is spending £15,000 in a rush to destroy dozens of trees, many of them apparently healthy. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Cash-strapped Croydon Council is planning to fell more than 250 trees around the borough in the coming months.
That’s according to an email from a council official sent earlier this month to three Conservative councillors and to Croydon Friends of the Earth.
The email has emerged as contractors continued to hack away over the Bank Holiday weekend at seemingly healthy trees around the Shrublands Estate in Shirley, where the council has decided that nearly 100 trees, mostly in green open spaces, are dead, diseased or dangerous.
According to the official in Fisher’s Folly, residents who have expressed concerns about the council’s over-eagerness to destroy apparently healthy trees simply don’t know what they are talking about.
The council official wrote, “We have had a number of enquiries regarding these marked trees as to the lay person they appear on the surface to be healthy, however they are actually severely decayed internally. Unfortunately removal is the only viable option.”
Initially, residents observed around 20 trees doomed for destruction with a council pink “X” painted on their trunks. The official’s email reveals that the total number of “assets” around the estate that have been condemned is closer to 100.
There has never been any formal consultation process with residents in Shirley about the demolition and removal of so many trees, nor opportunity to challenge the council’s decision or bring in an independent arboriculture expert for their assessment. The removal of the trees is being undertaken on a budget of £15,000 – where the cheapest option is often the simplest: the destruction of trees, some of which are more than 60 years old.
The council’s chainsaw-happy approach sounds remarkably similar to what happened in Sheffield two years ago, when contractors removed trees that were assessed as dangerous, dead, diseased or dying.
Many residents felt trees were removed unnecessarily, and it provoked scenes with protesters, police and arrests. The Local Government Ombudsman ruled that Sheffield City Council had acted with a “lack of transparency, openness and, on occasion, honesty”.
The Croydon Council email revealed that a single official had determined the fate of 252 trees in the borough’s public spaces in just two days.
The official claims that the trees had “not been comprehensively surveyed for the last 20 to 30 years”. And that the works at Shrublands needs to be conducted within a budget of £15,000. Chop! Chop!
“I have been undertaking the four-year essential tree survey for dead, dying and dangerous trees in GM Area 2 Ashburton, Fieldway, Heathfield, New Addington, Shirley, Woodside, Selsdon and Ballards,” the council official wrote, referring to borough wards that have not actually existed for more than three years.
“I spent an initial two days surveying the bulk of the 252 arboriculture assets including groups and individual trees. I have been back to Shrublands on a number of occasions to audit the tree works with a colleague and the council’s arboriculture contractor City Suburban.”
It does not take much reading between the lines of the official’s email to work out that the council’s real concerns are less about the environment, and more about avoiding potentially expensive insurance claims.
“Tree and woodland officers are only identify [sic] dead, dying and dangerous issues to people and property in order to discharge the council’s duty of care. Trees that need to be felled are being marked with painted X (fell), CR (Crown Reduce), P (Pollard) and CL (Crown Lift) on the trunk in order to ensure the contractor works on the correct tree but also to highlight that the tree is be removed in a cost- and time-efficient manner.” Chop! Chop!
“We have had a number of enquiries regarding these marked trees as to the lay person they appear on the surface to be healthy, however they are actually severely decayed internally. Unfortunately, removal is the only viable option and there is no technology available to reverse the natural cycle of decay.
“Given that the trees within and adjoining the Shrublands Estate have not been comprehensively surveyed for the last 20 to 30 years, there is a significant amount of tree works that has to take place this finical [sic] year. There is a budgetary requirement to keep the tree works at Shrubland [sic] under £15,000, therefore there are a number of trees with green paint to indicate that routine cyclic tree works (small trees touching or will touch a built structure in the near future, clearance of a footpath) or trees with no significant target (small dead or dying trees that will not fall onto footpaths or built structures) that will not take place this finical [sic] year.”
The council official maintained that he had observed “trees with decay that have fungus, die back and cavities”, but was unable to share the images he had on file of these condemned trees.
“Some of the tree works are urgent given the extensive internal decay of the trees due [to] fungal fruiting bodies, high-value targets of occupied dwellings and public highway,” the official wrote.
The councillors who were advised of the tree works – Tories Sue Bennett, Richard Chatterjee and Gareth “Blubber” Streeter – have remained remarkably silent on the deforestation of Shrublands. But then, nor has Labour MP Sarah Jones bothered to respond to constituents’ letters raising the matter as a concern.
Croydon Conservatives have recently decided that the burning issue of the moment, in the middle of a climate emergency, is the length of the grass in the borough’s open spaces. So perhaps the Tories actually endorse the cutting of so many trees, too.
One thing appears certain, however: the cash-strapped council won’t be paying for replacement saplings around the newly shrub-less Shrublands Estate any time soon.
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