Cllr Ward Defends Sidelining Arboricultural Officers on Jesus Green Plans

Saturday, December 13th, 2008. 9:08pm

A healthy young oak tree which is just getting established is one of the 59 trees on Jesus Green under threat.

Cllr Tim Ward has written a letter to the Cambridge Evening news which has been published today (13th December 2008). He is responding to Bronwyn Hipkin who recently wrote:

Having read with alarm of the fate of 59 trees on Jesus Green which Cllr Smith tells us are all diseased and dangerous, I rang the council’s tree department.

Imagine my surprise when they knew nothing about the scheme and told me it was being handled by outside contractors.

What is going on? The council has an excellent department, full of experts on trees and landscape. How can they afford an outside agency?

Read Mrs Hipkin’s full letter here on the Cambridge Evening News Website.

Tim Ward, who signed his letter: “Chairman, environment scrutiny committee, Cambridge City Council” responded saying:

Bronwyn Hipkin is surprised the city council uses outside contractors to carry out some tree works.

He has totally mis-understood Mrs Hipkin’s point, she was not talking about contractors carrying out tree works, but about the outside consultants who came up with the plan to fell fifty nine trees on Jesus Green as part of the recently submitted lottery bid. Many of the trees it is proposed to fell have been planted relatively recently by the council’s own arboricultural service, who were surprised to be sidelined during the development of the lottery bid.

Cllr Ward is the second Liberal Democrat councillor now to have revealed a serious misconception about the Jesus Green proposals. At an open meeting of the Jesus Green Association on the 2nd of December Councillor Julie Smith publicly withdrew comments she had made in a letter to the Cambridge Evening News in which she had stated all the fifty-nine trees to be felled were “old and frail, poorly formed or diseased”. She said she had been misled by council staff, and had wrongly assumed that these trees had been identified by the council’s own tree officers as needing to be felled.

Councillor Ward (Liberal Democrat City Councillor for Arbury) ought to have ensured he and his fellow councillors were properly briefed on the development of proposals for the Jesus Green Lottery bid.

Cllr Ward’s letter went on to make reasonable points about councils having to make judgements about when to do work in house and when to engage outside contractors. He supported making such decisions on a case by case basis, rather than having a presumption that either outsourcing or keeping everything in-house was the best route. While I agree with him on that; I, along with Mrs Hipkin disagree that it was the right judgement, in this case, to ignore the council’s in-house expertise.

Other articles on the Jesus Green proposals:

2 comments/updates on “Cllr Ward Defends Sidelining Arboricultural Officers on Jesus Green Plans

  1. Richard Article author

    The Cambridge Evening News has not made Cllr Ward’s letter available online. In order to effectively comment on it I have reproduced it here:

    Our Choice

    Bronwyn Hipkin is surprised the city council uses outside contractors to carry out some tree works. She should not be surprised. The city council, like all other councils, and like all commercial organisations makes reasoned decisions as to which goods to manufacture itself and which services to provide with its own staff, and which goods and services to buy in.

    She also appears to be suggesting that it’s always going to be cheaper to use in-house staff than to buy in services which is not the case.

    Once upon a time under governments of one colour there was intense pressure on councils to sack all their own workers and hire private contractors to do pretty well everything. Once upon a time, under governments of another colour; there was an assumption that councils existed to employ as many people as possible directly, regardless of whether this was the most efficient way of doing the work.

    The current regime where a council can choose whether to provide a service itself on a case by case basis, provided the final choice is actually sane is definitely an improvement.

    Cllr Tim Ward
    Chairman, environment scrutiny committee,
    Cambridge City Council

    It appears that Cllr Ward has attempted to hijack the debate on the Jesus Green proposals to make a party political point. What he has managed to demonstrate is that party politics has no useful role to play in the way we run our city.

  2. Jim Smith

    Well done for pointing out Mr Ward’s totally specious argument. Noone is suggesting that the council should be barred from subcontracting work – be it local plumbers, electricians or tree fellers. Her quite specific point is that the council’s trees officers do not know what is happening to trees in their patch.

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