Council Ignoring New Trees Which Fail in Cambridge

Sunday, February 10th, 2013. 8:00pm

Milton Road Tree

Remains of Recently Planted Tree. Milton Rd, Cambridge

Cambridge City Council has planted lots of new trees in Cambridge in recent years.

While the majority of the new trees are doing well, some have failed to thrive. A certain fraction of failure is to be expected and is not in itsself a problem; however I would like to see the council rapidly replacing those new trees which have not established themselves successfully. Monitoring and replacement does not appear to be happening; there are many cases around they city where new trees have disappeared, or been badly broken, and no action has been taken in relation to them in well over a year.

The failures may be due to wind damage, vandalism, or perhaps even direct action by those opposing specific planting. In some cases it looks as if wind damage occurred rapidly after the trees went in, so they were not fit for purpose and the council ought to have been seeking a refund or replacement from their supplier – ensuring the taxpayer’s money they spent is not wasted.

The Liberal Democrats ran a high profile campaign relating to the trees which have been planted on Milton Road and have made a huge fuss about the new trees when they went in. Perhaps the run up to County Council elections in May 2013 will provide the impetus for them to get their officers to replace some of the new, but failed, trees?

In October 2011 I noted two trees, perhaps including the one pictured above, on Milton Road were broken – showing that the council is not acting in a timely manner:

I have been seeking to raise this problem with local councillors in public at the North Area Committee throughout 2012 and into 2013. Councillors have not shown any interest. At one point the Executive Councillor for the Environment, Tim Ward, promised to investigate the City Council’s policy on the matter, but he refused to report back to the committee when the chair chased up the action – all he would tell the the committee was that he had written to me. What I was sent by Cllr Ward was a forwarded message from City Council officer Alistair Wilson stating:

All newly planted trees are inspected annually by Kenny McGregor, who will identify trees that have failed, assess any replacements needed, detail for repair any stakes or ties that may be broken, and to ensure that those trees that have established are added to the cyclical maintenance programme.

We will also respond to any reported damage and make repair.

Mr McGregor is a city council tree officer; one of many people the council employ as part of their tree team (which just manges tree work carried out by contractors).

I followed this up with a further question to the North Area Committee on the 31st of January 2013 saying that letting me know what the council’s policy is isn’t addressing the problem I had raised of new trees failing and not being replaced in a timely manner.

Further Examples

Two Trees on Fraser Road are examples where the main trunk has been broken:

New Tree - Main Trunk Broken - Fraser Road

New Tree - Main Trunk Broken - Fraser Road

In some cases such as those shown above there is a year or two’s growth following significant damage, the trees are recovering, but growing into poor quality trees. Where major failures occur in the first couple of years after a tree is planted I think it makes sense to replace them.

Cllr Ward replied to me at the January 2013 North Area Committee asking me to identify specific trees – however I think I had already given enough examples to demonstrate that the council’s stated policy is not being followed. While the city council are employing a large team of tree officers I think they ought be the ones identifying the trees which have failed. I think if councillor Ward wanted to put the onus back on the public perhaps he could, but such a move ought be accompanied by getting rid of some of the tree officers and reducing the size of the council and council tax bills.

Cambridge City Council has refused to publish its database of trees, and associated records of inspections and works. It may be that from April 2013 the new “dataset” provisions in the Freedom of Information Act could be used to prise this information out of the council which will make it easier for Cambridge residents to monitor what the council is doing in relation to the city’s trees.

While asking my questions at the area committee I had identified the trees mentioned in this article so it appears to me councillors are just being evasive and my efforts to prompt councillors to get these trees replaced are just going around in circles.

The root of the problem is, as so often, we need to elect better councillors.

Trees on the Commons

The problem of new trees failing and not being replaced is not limited to trees on the highway; but also affects trees on the city’s green spaces.

For example:

A badly broken tree on Midsummer Common:
Midsummer Common Broken Tree

Sites of failed new trees- Stourbridge Common:

Site of Failed New Tree - Stourbridge Common

Site of Failed New Tree - Stourbridge Common

Using the Area Committees

At the first North Area Committee meeting at which I sought to raise this Chairman Todd-Jones introduced a one item per person policy so I used my opportunity to suggest the committee accept correspondence enabling many matters to be dealt with outside the meeting and simply reported to it. This got the support of some councillors (as it did when I suggested it in the West-Central area too) and Cllr Todd-Jones said he would consider it, despite this being well over six months ago he has not yet reported any conclusion of his consideration.

Many exchanges at area committees take years.

FixMyStreet Reports

I have reported the Fraser Road and Milton Road trees via FixMyStreet.

7 comments/updates on “Council Ignoring New Trees Which Fail in Cambridge

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Pitt has tweeted:

    He is right that many of the new cherry trees on Milton Road are taking well and look fantastic. There are damaged trees along the road, and elsewhere in the city, though.

    Cllr Pitt,

    I have been trying to draw attention to what I think is a general problem of newly planted trees not being checked to see if they’ve become established or if they need replacing after they have been planted.

    You’ve asked me to send you by email the locations of the specific trees I’ve mentioned.

    The broken tree I’ve photographed on Milton Road, which has been just a single vertical stick since October 2011, is opposite the junction with Herbert Street. At least one new tree on the same stretch of pavement has gone completely and I think there were probably one or two more new trees between the Elizabeth Way roundabout and Gilbert Road which are not there any longer.

    A number of the slightly older, but still quite new, trees on the opposite side of Milton Road near the Herbert Street junction, and towards the City Centre, look to me as if they’re worth considering replacing following substantial damage.

    The two trees I’ve been drawing attention to on Fraser Road are the first two as you enter Fraser Road from Milton Road.

    The sites of trees which didn’t take and weren’t replaced on Stourbridge Common are just upstream of the Green Dragon Bridge. The broken newly planted tree on Midsummer Common is next to the riverside path between the Cutter Ferry and Elizabeth Way bridges.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Pitt has passed on an email from the council which says:

    The street trees that Mr Taylor refers to in his blog were ordered for delivery to us on the 14th January [2013]. These tree failures were picked up on routine inspections in 2012 by contractors that we use for watering and planting. Due to the snow we did not plant in January. We are now in the process of planting.

    Council officers also told Cllr Pitt, in an email he passed on to me:

    With regards Midsummer Common this tree is ordered and should be planting within the next few weeks.

    Both Cllr Pitt and Cllr Johnston have been in touch to basically say the Stourbridge Common trees were put in (and failed) quite a while ago and there’s not currently a plan to replace those trees in that location (though new trees have gone in elsewhere on the Common).

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    According to an article in the Cambridge News more trees are to be replaced in January 2014:

    I raised the issue of trees on Milton Road and adjacent streets as one which had fallen off the action list at the North Area Committee in November 2013. Many trees have been lost, or badly damaged in the recent winds and there are still many sites where there have been trees and replacements are still awaited.

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