Yesterday proved to be a day of intense frustration. Ludlow lost a perfectly fine sycamore tree, which was cut down unnecessarily by a housing association. The second tree was saved with moments to spare after interventions by us councillors and Shropshire Council’s tree team.
Until yesterday, two very fine sycamore trees stood on the green at the bottom of Charlton Rise on the corner of Sheet Road. Part of the Sidney Road social housing site, these trees have been growing for decades. They were very healthy trees and no threat to anyone. They were also part of the local scene, walked and driven past by hundreds of people every day.
Image: Google Earth May 2015
Around nine the morning, contractors from Total Response sealed off the area. When I spotted this from the bus, I made the assumption that the men were conducting routine pruning. It was not long later that Tracey Huffer rang me. She is Shropshire Councillor for this patch and was hard at work at the Station Drive Surgery where she is a nurse. Tracey said that she had received complaints that trees were coming down and asked if I knew what was happening.
I was also receiving complaints. I rang a friend who lives on Sidney Road and he described the scene to me. One tree was already down and it looked like the second was due for felling.
We needed to act quickly. I rang Shropshire Council’s tree expert, Dougald Purce. He was already on the case. We shared notes. Dougald put out calls to South Shropshire Housing and I hopped on a bus to get to the site.
I was really upset by what I saw when I got to the green.
I spoke to the contractors, who were very polite and understood our concerns. I got the impression they could not fathom why they had been ordered to cut down two healthy trees. We agreed that no work would begin on the second tree for a couple of hours to allow negotiations.
I went home to drop off my shopping and send some angry emails to the housing association. I also picked up a long length of cable and loaded chocolate and water into my rucksack. I had every intention of tying myself to the second tree if we couldn’t get agreement on saving it.
Fortunately, there was no need for this action. Dougald Purce had reached agreement with South Shropshire Housing that the second tree would not be felled – for now at least.
Later, in response to media requests, the housing association issued a statement.
Paul Sutton Executive Director for Assets and Development for Shropshire Housing Group said:
“I can confirm that a maintenance crew did go out to Sidney Road to cut down two trees. We appreciate the sensitivity associated with trees, however, the costs associated with trees are borne by our residents. It is imperative that we mitigate these costs to allow our tenancies to remain affordable. One tree was cut down, however, upon discussions with tenants and a representative of the council it has been agreed that a more appropriate smaller tree will be planted in the near future.”
I am glad that a new tree will be planted. But there was never any need to cut down this tree in the first place.
The argument that this was done to mitigate costs to tenants is nonsense. Tree work is expensive but it is more than covered by the service charges social housing tenants every week for grounds maintenance. If South Shropshire Housing really thinks that trees are too expensive to maintain, we are going to see every tree on its social housing sites removed in the next few years. I am sure it is not planning to do that.
Tenants were not consulted about this. Neither were us councillors.
As councillors we feel let down by the housing association’s actions yesterday. We have worked closely with South Shropshire Housing on the Sandpits maisonettes development, where trees have had to be felled. Tracey and I met with residents to explain why this was necessary. If there was any necessity to fell the tree yesterday – and there wasn’t – we would have worked with the housing association to explain to residents why the work was being done.
We have asked the chief executive of Shropshire Housing Group, Jake Berriman, for an urgent site meeting.
I am personally worried that the housing association is preparing this site for development. I have seen this so many times. Mature trees are an impediment to getting planning permission. So trees are cut down before they have protection orders on them. We will be seeking an assurance that the housing association is not planning to develop this important area of green space. We also want tree protection orders placed on the surviving trees.