Greens demand Council listens to residents over tree-felling

20 May 2023

St Albans Council's tree-felling programme has become a national news story after Greens joined campaign groups and residents to protest against it and call for the operation to be reassessed.

The story has been covered in The Times (paywall)The Telegraph (paywall) and the BBC website, as well as local papers

There is a petition to St Albans Council which local residents are encouraged to sign and share. The petition already has over 500 signtures, which means it will be debated by Full Council. But residents should still add their names to it, to give it even greater strength and show the depth of feeling on this issue.

Read on for the story so far, why the felling should stop, and what the Council should do now.

The story so far

In late April, just before the local elections, St Albans Council published a list of 300 mature street trees in the district that it was going to fell, on behalf of the County Council. Some of these were very large, such as the oak in the photo. Signs were put on the trees, and red crosses.

The explanation was this was a list that had been growing for 3 years, and the trees needed to be felled for health and safety reasons. On further inspection, St Albans Council reduced that list to 250.

The felling started immediately, and was scheduled to last for several weeks.

Green councillors have repeatedly approached senior people at the Council to ask for an explanation and for the work to be at least paused. To date, the Council has only re-stated the health and safety case and claimed the programme is 'not political'. Top council officers and ruling Lib Dem councillors have refused to comment on the idea of pausing the programme, or on the nationwide controversy that has arisen.

On 19 May the Council published this piece on its website, re-stating the health and safety arguments and trying to divert attention towards its tree-planting programme - a programme which is of course very welcome.

Reasons why the felling must stop

Campaigners, Green councillors and residents came together to organise a protest to raise awareness. The arguments for a re-think include:

  • It's nesting season until the end of the summer, so great care needs to be taken not to disturb active nests: to do so is illegal. 
  • The replacement trees will not repair the damage. Replacements are expected to be small saplings, which take decades or more to grow to maturity and provide the same benefits as the lost trees. Many saplings don't survive due to lack of maintenance. And the replacements may not be provided at the same location.
  • There has been no public consultation or awareness activity from the Council, despite recent extremely controversial felling programmes in places like Sheffield and Plymouth, which have led to court cases and resignations. 
  • Safety risks are not the only risks that need to be considered. Of course, if a tree is truly dangerous, it must be dealt with and that might mean felling it. But the very small safety risk needs to be set against other risks that are increased when trees are removed, including flooding, damage to wildlife and biodiversity, urban heating, climate change, air pollution, soil erosion, amenity and more. The C
  • It's politically controversial and Council's are obliged not to carry out such activities during a pre-election period. There was a pre-election period in April for the local elections and there is another one until 13 June for a Council by-election.
  • It bring the Council into disrepute. In order for the Council to operate effectively it needs the trust of local people which it earns by operating responsibly and effectively. The attention the tree-felling has brought - and the Council's refusal to pause it - damages that.

What the Council should do now

  1. At the very least, pause non-urgent felling until after nesting season.
  2. Stop making statements that justify the felling, until after the by-election on 13 June.
  3. Draw up a list of which trees are an immediate safety risk, and which are not.
  4. Launch an engagement process with experts and residents.
  5. Draw up a risk register that balances the health and safety risks with other risks, and scores them.
  6. Produce a new list that takes the full range of risks and expert opinion into account.
  7. Discuss what went wrong, why, and what the Council is going to do about it, at a Full Council meeting, in public.
  8. Update their out-of-date 8-year-old Tree Strategy, which doesn't even mention the climate emergency, air pollution or flooding.

Sign the petition

There is a petition to St Albans Council which local residents are encouraged to sign and share. It needs 500 signatures to be debated by Full Council.

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