Monday, 30 November 2015

Protecting trees in East Devon: District Council Tree committee a year on

A year ago, the District Council put together a 'TAFF' to look at its policy on trees:
Futures Forum: Protecting trees in East Devon: District Council Tree committee meeting: Friday 5th December

Unfortunately, the committee became rather mired in the 'politics of trees':

Monday, 15 December 2014

Clr Howard's (A)way - How trees became politically dangerous in #EDDC

Trees are politically dangerous!

Who would have thought that trees in #EDDC would be politically dangerous! But there again in #EDDC it would appear that anything and everything that the Conservative majority Group can’t control and direct is deemed politically dangerous. So, the story about trees, politics and #EDDC is –

Way back in October 2013 following an initiative by Councillor Claire Wright

http://www.claire-wright.org/  #EDDC agreed set up a tree scrutiny task force. Yes, I know that this sounds rather innocuous but frankly anything that involves Claire Wright and trees must be politically suspect, after all she is the Woodland Trust’s https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ tree champion for Devon. If you follow this link to the Woodland Trust you will see what a politically subversive lot they are.

Great, #EDDC having set up this task group then set about doing nothing to hold any meetings. Then low and behold one is called for 5 December 2014. Not bad only 14 months to organise a meeting! Must be something#EDDC Conservatives don’t really want to happen.

Anyway, Claire Wright turns up at the tree scrutiny task group meeting along with one of our other local politically dangerous #EDDC Councillors Roger Giles. As does, “on message” Conservative Councillor Tony Howard. 

 One would think that this task force might first of all set about electing one of their number to chair the task force. But you would be so wrong! Before the meeting even started Councillor Howard had been “appointed” by Councillor Tim Wood (no relative to the tree family), Chair of the  # EDDC Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Guess which political persuasion they are!?

Oh dear, we knew that it would all end in tears when at the meeting Claire Wright proposed Roger Giles should be the Chair. The matter was deferred to the next meeting – probably so that the Conservative Group could muster its troops to attend with their block vote.

Then the tree scrutiny task force set about discussing the scope of its remit. That is very politically taxing! This was fine until Claire Wright (her again?!) proposed that the Local Plan (now that is politically taxing!) be part of the remit. After much argy bargy the Chair, you recall its Conservative Councillor Tony Howard, announced that he had had enough and was closing the meeting! That will teach Claire Wright!

But wait, the two pesky independent Councillors then tried to get those present to agree a date for a further meeting. Now this is tricky as the task force has to conclude its scrutiny in 26 March so that it is all done way ahead of May’s local elections. So, when is the next meeting? Yup, 26 January!!

Hang on though, it’s not all over yet! Councillor Howard decides to throw a spanner in the works by resigning!

One way or another the #EDDC Conservative Councillors are throwing all they can at Claire Wright and her independent allies, even when it comes to talking about trees!

Read all about this #EDDC farce, and weep, at -

Real Zorro: Clr Howard's (A)way - How trees became politically dangerous in #EDDC
Boss of East Devon tree committee quits after explosive meeting | Exeter Express and Echo

However, things then settled down a little.

Here is the overview from the District Council on the work of the committee:

Evaluation and protection of Trees Task and Finish Forum

Task and Finish Forums - East Devon

The Scrutiny Cttee meeting on 25th June asked for a report after six months of the TAFF:

9 Report of the Tree Task and Finish Forum (pages 6 - 17) 
Report back from the forum set up by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to investigate the main threat to trees in the district, and evaluate appropriate action to robustly defend them. The report will be presented by the forum Chairman Councillor Mike Howe. 

Agenda for Scrutiny CommitteeThursday, 26 June 2015

This is from the minutes of the meeting:

5. Final report of the Tree Task and Finish Forum

Minute 5
Councillor Mike Howe was unable to attend the meeting to present his report.  The Chairman read out an email to the Committee from Cllr Howe highlighting recommendation 10 in the report on developing a Tree Strategy.
The Chairman thanked the Strategic Lead for Housing and Environment, Service Lead for Countryside and Leisure, and the Senior Arboricultural Officer along with other officers for their contribution to the Forum.
Questions and debate from the committee on the report included:
  • Why there was no specific reference to the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the Forum’s report: in response, the Service Lead for Countryside and Leisure advised the committee that the tree service covered the whole of the district with close liaison with the AONB officers.  The Senior Arboricultural Officer explained that different legislation covered Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) to that of AONBs;
  • Why there was no specific reference to the mitigating effect of trees on flooding: in response, the Chairman outlined that the many benefits of trees including that aspect were taken as a given in the report and the Forum operated on that basis.  More specific detail on those benefits would be set out in the Tree Strategy once produced;
  • Educational benefit of tree planting, with a recent community orchard planting scheme expected to be rolled out across the District;
  • Excellent work by Sidmouth with an active arboretum committee to survey trees in that area and in due course produce a policy;
  • TPOs can be placed on trees on Council owned land, but generally, this was not considered necessary, as there was an expectation that the tree management would be sufficient that the tree would not be under threat.  Full planning consent overrides a TPO but in determining an application a process is undertaken to weight the merit of overriding a TPO;
  • Recent shift in culture meant that developers were being educated in the benefits to retaining existing trees.  The wrong tree in the wrong place can be a problem for a developer, but equally the right tree with a mature canopy could add between 10 and 15 percent to the value of the site.  In recent years new TPO numbers had decreased but so too had pre-emptive removal of trees by developers;
  • Any TPO over six months old and not confirmed was no longer valid.
  1. That Tree officers be involved in pre planning application meetings as standard; greater involvement at an early stage would benefit the process and enable any issues to be addressed in a timely way;
  2. That, as part of the Systems Thinking review of the tree service at East Devon, to look at national guidance and best practice and where appropriate to look to adopt this within new work flow systems;
  3. That a review be undertaken of information provided on the Council’s website relating to arboriculture, and produce new web guidance on the main work areas to reduce service demand;
  4. That the decision on the choice of which TPO system is to be adopted be made by the Arboricultural Service, but for weight to be given to the importance of providing guidance notes with the TPO form to reduce ‘preventable demand’
  5. That the Council develops a Tree Enforcement Policy;
  6. That guidance be given to community groups working on Neighbourhood Plans to encourage particular consideration to be given to addressing issues in respect of trees and how their value within the community and landscape can be recorded and protected – the guidance to be drawn up by the Arboricultural Service in consultation with the planning policy team;
  7. That the Development Management and Planning Enforcement team (with technical support from the Arboricultural Service) look for effective ways to monitor the future protection of trees following development of a site – this to include criteria for monitoring and how to involve local councils and ward members in this process so that information is fed back to the Council as quickly and effectively as possible;
  8. That the benefits of remote data capture be supported and the Arboricultural Service be encouraged to undertake trials of the system so that it can be used to develop a district-wide on-line database of trees.  In addition, to investigate the feasibility and cost of open mapping to plot the district’s trees and calculate their ecosystem service benefits in monetary terms. (There is potential for this system, if effective, to be extended for use by community groups and tree wardens to help with logging tree information across the district – this information could also be used to populate Neighbourhood Plans);
  9. That the current arrangement of local councils with Quality Status and dealing with applications for work to trees be reviewed. Although local determination of applications adds value to the customer experience, local councils seek advice from the arboricultural service and so none of the work burden is taken from the arboricultural team.  In addition, not all of the decisions taken by the local councils follow advice given by officers; there have been appeals against decisions where a tree of poor quality had been approved for protection, contrary to advice from officers. This has resulted in delays in issuing a decision notice;
  10. That following adoption of the Local Plan, the Planning Team, in round table consultation with the Arboricultural Service and all other services that have tree assets (including Streetscene, Housing and Countryside),  develop a Tree Strategy to fit with other guidance, support and policy documents, to be taken into account during development and other related decision making.  The Strategy to include:
  • the Council’s aims in respect of urban and rural  planting and the green infrastructure, trees and development, to incorporate a replacement tree strategy
  • subsidence
  • public liability, health and safety, duty of care, determination of tree works applications, the recognition and analysis of the benefits or urban and rural forests and tree canopies to the environmental, aesthetic, economic and social well being of the area and how these could be maintained and enhanced
  • the authority’s perception and value of trees within the district
  • the importance of succession planting
  • tree protection including TPOs , reviewing TPOs, enforcement and supplementary guidance
  • the effective capture and monitoring of  data relating to canopy cover
  • efficient management of all trees including council owned trees
  • sustainability
  • climate change
  • guidance on species choice and planting
  • how to achieve effective partnership working with the district’s communities, agencies and organisations
  • examples of best practice
  • education
11. That the Arboricultural Service work with other relevant EDDC services and its partners to develop a programme of education to widen the public’s knowledge of trees and their value within the environment.
that, assuming agreement of the recommendations by Cabinet, the committee receive regular updates on the implementation of the recommendations listed.

Scrutiny Committee minutes for 26 June 2015 - Final report of the Tree Task and Finish Forum - East Devon

And here is the District Council's planning guidance on trees, updated in September:
Trees and development - East Devon

Although it's always more complicated:
'Cut down trees before they can object': Council planning officers offer 'consultancy services' to help developers win applications | Daily Mail Online
The Knowle - Parks and Gardens
The value of protecting our trees: £170million replacement cost - News - Sidmouth Herald

See also:
Futures Forum: Protecting trees in East Devon: District Council to debate
Futures Forum: Protecting trees in East Devon: District Council Tree committee meeting: Friday 5th December

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