Opinion: ‘Trees are important to communities’

Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 12th September 2021, 2:38 pm
The ancient oak tree in Ringwood, Bretton. Photo: Richard Simcox.

On the day that I write this article, the Government has just announced that at last it is proposing to do something about the scandal of adult social care.

People in Peterborough and around the country will be aware that at present many families face heartache as their loved ones struggle to pay expensive care home charges, often having to sell their houses to pay the bills.

Government is at last proposing reform and will put in place a system where there will be a lifetime cap on fees for personal care of £86,000. But that is only for the actual cost of care and will not cover the costs of living in a care home.

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Campaigner Richard Elmer infront of the tree in Ringwood he is fighting to protect.

So there will still be hardship and putting the burden of funding the new system onto national insurance means that the young and lowest paid will be hit disproportionately hard. At the last general election, Liberal Democrats proposed putting a penny on income tax to pay for extra spending on health and social care.

No-one likes paying tax, but income tax is a much fairer way of raising money and ensures that the wealthiest in our society pay the most.

I have recently become involved in the campaign to save the “Bretton Oak”.

This is a very old tree located on a footpath called Blind Lane in South Bretton. An insurance company is alleging that the tree is causing damage to a nearby house, even though the tree has been there for hundreds of years and it is estimated that it provides over £300,000 worth of benefits in the form of “ecosystem services” to local people. The insurers own documents published on the council planning portal show that the net cost of retaining the tree is only £47,000 and yet the council still proposes to chop it down.

The case highlights many of the things that are wrong with Peterborough City Council.

A secret report that the council claims justifies removal of the tree but they say it can’t be published, as it is “commercially confidential”.

A point blank refusal to get an opinion from an independent trees expert. One council officer applying to another in secret for permission to override the Tree Preservation Order which the council itself put on the tree years ago. I have asked the council to refer the issue to the planning committee, so that a debate can be had in public...but they have refused my request.

There is a fabulous group of local people, led by tireless campaigner, Richard Elmer, campaigning to save the tree, backed up by many local residents, including over 2,000 who have signed a petition. And it’s a cross party campaign. I have been doing what I can but local Conservative MP, Paul Bristow, has also been strongly backing the local residents in their campaign.

A demonstration in Blind Lane to save the tree is planned for September 25 at 11am. Do join us for that if you can.

Sometimes a campaign like this becomes bigger than the issue which sparked it off. In this case, a Facebook group has been set up which is dedicated to protecting all Peterborough’s trees and planting more of them.

If you are on Facebook, do check it out by searching for “Trees of Peterborough”. Why not go on there and talk about trees which are of importance to you.