Update (Dec 2012): There is now new tree strategy being proposed by WHBC. We have expressed some reservations about it which can be read here.
We refer specifically to the WHBC document dated January 2007. We think this is a key part of the environmental strategy; it can be downloaded below. The text that follows forms part of a submission by the Society to the Council on the latter’s Open Spaces Strategy.
Responsibility for trees
The events in Stanborough Park and the loss of Poplars both there and in the centre of Welwyn Garden City suggest that that the existing document is inadequate to support the Borough’s environmental strategy. We suggest the document is reviewed immediately. Our reasons for this are as follows:
In paragraph 3.4, it states that the Council is not directly responsible for trees in “private gardens” or in Borough open spaces managed by Finesse (the areas are then specified). We think that the inclusion of both these responsibilities within the same heading of “not directly responsible” is deeply flawed. Responsibility for trees that belong to householders is wholly different in nature to the responsibility that purports to be exercised by Finesse.
It seems clear to us that the reason for the poor handling of the trees in Stanborough Park has its origins in the lack of clarity contained in this very section of the strategy. Based on the experience of Stanborough Park, we do not think that Finesse has the expertise to manage “trees” in any meaningful way and that control should be exercised directly by the Borough.
It would be helpful for the Borough to explain how it feels responsible for “trees” in private gardens. We imagine it is contained in paragraph 3.5 – in which case the document should say so.
Strategic objectives in tree management
These are contained in paragraph 4.0 but it is our view that the priorities are in the wrong order.
“Conserving the Borough’s distinctive high quality environment”, currently the second objective should be the first objective. This should be followed by “enhancing the environment”, currently the third objective. Finally, “managing of the lifecycle of trees” should become the third objective, concerned largely as it is with operational issues though perhaps it may need renaming in view of our other comments.
This is a strategy document claiming to manage the landscape over a twenty year period but currently we believe it to be driven by operational demands, particularly an exaggerated view of risk which is clearly an operational issue. It seems to be forgotten that some six people on average die from trees falling down every year in the United Kingdom and this figure has remained more or less constant for decades. No amount of operational management will actually alter that figure as it is already a minute figure in relation to the numbers of people and trees present in the country.
This is not intended to downplay the issue of risk. This is something that has to be managed but it needs to be placed in a meaningful context. In the absence of some point of reference, this risk becomes an end in itself and prone to exaggeration by both the Council and by residents who claim their trees are a danger to their health, themselves, their children or their grandchildren. Generally, the reverse is the case.
Proactive management of risk
The existing strategy claims to manage this risk proactively. We do not think that it does. What happens is that when a tree is diagnosed as deceased then it is cut down. We see that as reactive. We are not suggesting that cutting down of deceased trees should not take place but this should not be confused with proactive tree management.
We see proactive tree management as managing the landscape over a long timeframe so that replacement trees are brought on to compensate when older trees reach the end of their lives. Hopefully, this is what will now happen in both the car parks of Stanborough Park.
Whilst the proactive management of all trees within the Borough’s ambit is a wonderful aspiration, we do not think it is possible without substantially more resources than is currently made available to it. Rather we feel that certain key vistas within the Borough should be managed “proactively”. The obvious ones are Parkway and Howardsgate in WGC but there are others throughout the Borough. These should be identified and relevant longer term plans should be drawn up for them and included as an Appendix to a revised tree strategy. That would focus attention on key areas that cause residents (and the Council) major grief when they are seen to fail. Such a policy needs to be properly explained to residents from the outset and as it is implemented.