Peterborough councillor calls for increased transparency in council’s bid to fell ancient oak tree

A Peterborough councillor has called for increased transparency in the city council’s process to fell an ancient oak tree in the city.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 5:57 am
The ancient oak tree in Ringwood, Bretton. Photo: Richard Simcox.

Ever since Peterborough City Council announced its intention to fell a 600-year-old oak tree in Bretton in July, residents and local politicians have been expressing their displeasure at the decision.

Campaigners have set up a 24-hour watch on the tree in Ringwood and have received support from Peterborough MP Paul Bristow.

Last month (August 25), the council reaffirmed its position that the Tree Preservation Order in place could be overridden and that the ancient oak had to be felled; following an insurance claim from a nearby resident that the roots had caused damage to their property.

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Paston and Walton ward councillor, Cllr Nick Sandford.

The issue was discussed at length at a leader’s briefing of the council on Friday (August 27) and following that, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford has sent a series of points and objections to the council’s Chief Executive Officer Gillian Beasley.

Among the points raised were: an error in regards to the tree’s location on the application to remove the Tree Preservation Order, his belief the decision should go before the planning committee, the value of keeping the tree vs removing it, a plea for the council to reveal a “commercially confidential” surveyor’s report, that a independent arboricultural report should be sought and the fact that the government’s advises against felling ancient trees.

Speaking about his objections, Cllr Sandford, called for increased transparency in the whole process, he said: “There was an error on the application for consent to override the TPO and fell the tree, in that an incorrect address is quoted. The papers say that the tree is on Barnard Way, whereas that is actually the location of the house which is allegedly affected. The tree is on a footpath on the other side of a fence. So it could be argued that this renders the consent invalid.

“Regardless of this, I said to officers that I want to apply for revocation of the consent under the Tree Preservation Order. My purpose in doing this is solely to get the issue referred to the Planning Committee for a public discussion and decision by councillors. “Where you have a situation where the council is effectively applying to itself for consent I think that should have to go to the planning committee but again they are refusing and they have said I can not apply to rescind the consent.

“In the interest of transparency, this should happen. There have been instances in the past, involving trees, where applications have been made to revoke planning permissions. If this were a tree on land owned by a councillor, it would automatically have to go to planning committee; in the interests of openness and transparency. So, given the massive public interest in this case, I feel that referral to the planning committee would be a sensible option.

“Also, in the document from the insurers applying for consent to override the Tree Preservation Order, they say repairs to the house and other measures will cost £75,000. Even if the tree is taken out, it is still going to cost £28,000 so the net cost of retaining the tree is only £47,000.

“The Council press release made wild unsubstantiated claims about the cost of retaining the tree being a third of the total council tree management budget. Officers have told me that the tree has been estimated to have a CAVAT value (a recognised way of quantifying the ecosystem services provided by a tree) of over £300,000. So, spending £47,000 net to retain a tree valued at £300,000, sounds like very good value to me.

“When I queried the figures, I was told there was a structural surveyors report that was being used to arrive at that conclusion but that I couldn’t see it as it was commercially confidential.

“My other main ask is that they commission an independent arboricultural report but they said they don’t want to and I think the reason is that it might recommend retaining the tree.

“At the meeting on Friday, Nigel Simons said that he was a big fan of trees but the evidence he had seen was overwhelming and I said, well the evidence I have seen is not overwhelming.

“In the face of the climate emergency we need to be planting hundreds of thousands of trees and we need to retain the important ones we have.

“I just think this is typical of the way the council operates, everything is done in secret and they ignore the views of local people. The government planning guide on ancient trees even states that they should only be removed in wholly exceptional circumstances and I don’t think that these are wholly exceptional circumstances.”

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