Opinion: 'We mustn't let this destruction happen again'

The Ringwood tree stump - after the tree was felled by the city councilThe Ringwood tree stump - after the tree was felled by the city council
The Ringwood tree stump - after the tree was felled by the city council
At the Council's AGM back in May, I was really pleased to be elected as Deputy Mayor of Peterborough for 2022-23, writes Liberal Democrat councillor Nick Sandford.

My job as Deputy Mayor is to attend events that the Mayor is invited to but can't get to, to assist the Mayor in his charitable work during the year and to help him in his other main role of chairing the Full Council meetings. Our mayor for this year, Alan Dowson, is the city's current longest serving councillor and in his term of office he is focussing on supporting elderly people in the City and particular those suffering social isolation in rural areas.

Together with my deputy mayoress, Alderman Bella Saltmarsh, I have attended many events across the city, including a large children's educational event at the East of England Showground, a magnificent and inspiring Roman Catholic service in Peterborough Cathedral, the AGM of a local charity Peterborough Women's Aid and an exhibition of some work by incredibly talented art and photography students at the King's School. If you know of a local organisation who would like the Mayor or Deputy Mayor to attend an event, please do get in touch: [email protected]

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But as Deputy Mayor, I am still a councillor, and so still involved in supporting residents in my ward of Paston and Walton. Also, at this year's Council AGM, opposition party councillors were appointed as chairs of a number of the Council's committees. Previous audit reports have recommended this as a means of improving scrutiny and holding to account of decision makers within the Council. I was elected as chair of the Constitution and Ethics Committee. Under the Council's Improvement Plan, we are committed not just to improving budget processes but also to improving the way the Council is run. Liberal Democrats think this is really important, as currently we have a Council which is often seen as out of touch and unresponsive to the views and needs of local people. One main cause of this is the "leader and cabinet" system which puts too much power in the hands of our Council leader and a few of his cabinet members. Lib Dems would like to see the Council revert to a "committee system" (as used on Cambridgeshire County Council) where all key decisions are made in public by council committees, rather than in private by individual cabinet members.

A classic example of this problem has been the long running saga of the Bretton Oak Tree. You may have read that the tree was felled last week. There was no definitive proof that the tree was the cause of subsidence to a nearby house, the conservatory attached to the house had been built contrary to a planning condition and obvious solutions such as putting in root barriers were dismissed out of hand. The Council were desperate to remove the tree last week, as the consent to override the Tree Preservation Order on the tree was about to expire and to renew it and the Council leadership were anxious to avoid having to have a public hearing before the Council's planning committee. So they brought in two security firms and several van loads of police officers and cordoned off a public road to enable the tree felling to proceed. Several local residents were in tears and others went away because they could not bear to see a much loved ancient tree removed. Ancient trees have been called "nature's cathedrals": they are irreplaceable assets which should be protected not callously destroyed. I have called for a full scrutiny inquiry into what happened in this case (held in public), so that the Council can learn lessons and ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.