Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Councillors to rethink buying software to manage trees

PLANS to buy computer software to help manage more than 1,000 trees in Henley have been sent back to the drawing board.

Henley Town Council was considering investing in the software, which would track information and the health of the trees.

It would cost £15,000 up-front plus a £2,500-a-year licence fee.

The software, called Arbortrack, is used by larger authorities such as Reading Borough Council, which currently surveys Henley’s trees for the town council.

The information on the trees currently exists only in the form of paper copies.

In a report to members, town council accountant Liz Jones said buying the software would not eliminate the need to use the borough council as a contractor but it would mean their time could be spent more effectively and efficiently.

The council budgets £3,000 a year for tree consultancy as well as having a tree surgery budget of £20,000 a year.

The council’s recreation and amenities committee had recommended buying the software but members of the finance strategy and management committee disagreed, saying it was unhappy about the ongoing costs of the software.

Councillor Glen Lambert, a software expert, said: “My problem with this is the licence fee. That’s a really large fee and I don’t really know what for.

“I would not object if it was £250 a year but this is 10 times that. There will be inflation-linked increases. I don’t want to spend that money.”

Councillor Julian Brookes said the council should have some software to help with management of its tree stock but agreed the cost was too high.

He added: “I would like us to have software where the data could be exported to another programme if we wanted to change providers.”

Councillor Will Hamilton said the council should take its time to find a cheaper system or develop its own.

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said she had consulted town clerks from similar-sized councils.

“About half use a contractor who uses some kind of software but none considered purchasing the software themselves,” she said.

“They pay the contractor £2,000 or £3,000 to map the trees. They give priority to mapping trees on roads, footpaths or near homes — anywhere near where vehicles or people go.”

She said the current information given to the council came from Arbortrack but was put into written reports so buying the system would save time and more trees could be surveyed. “The advantage to having the system is the contractor does not have to spend time putting the information into paper reports,” said Mrs Wheeler.

The committee agreed that officers should look at alternatives, with help from Cllr Lambert, for consideration by the recreation and amenities committee.

Mrs Wheeler said: “We should do it because this would be a major expense and councillors should be clear that this is money well spent.”

Meanwhile, the council is set to spend up to £4,500 on new street lights at the Mill Meadows car park.

Eight of the 12 lights are currently not working and repairs would cost £1,700. 

New LED lights would cost £320 each. These would use 18 watts compared with 140 watts for the current lights, meaning there would be a saving on the cost of electricity.

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