Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Council in row over ‘butchered’ trees

FOUR lime trees in Watlington’s conservation area have been “butchered”, according to a town tree warden.

FOUR lime trees in Watlington’s conservation area have been “butchered”, according to a town tree warden.

Pruning work on the trees in Brook Street was carried out on behalf of Anne Ollivant, who lives in a row of houses behind them.

She says they needed trimming due to persistent high winds and was able to go ahead with the work as South Oxfordshire District Council did not respond to her request within the required six-week period.

About 20ft has been taken off the top of 60ft trees but Watlington Parish Council tree warden Robert Barber claims the result looks “terrible”.

He said: “They have been very heavily pruned in a manner that is not very appropriate — they took a huge chunk off the tops. These were big, tall, straight trees but what we are left with now are massive sawn-off trunks. They are an important part of the tree landscape as they are very, very noticeable as you drive through Brook Street. They were a lovely line and now they are in a very sorry state.”

Mr Barber, who is also a parish councillor, received a phone call from a concerned resident soon after the work began in April.

He called the district council to ask why the work had been allowed but all staff would tell him was that an application had been made to carry out the work. He asked for the tree officer to visit the site but was told he works part-time and was unavailable that day.

Mr Barber said that if the council had responded within the six-week period the tree officer could have visited previously. He said: “The vast majority of cases are dealt with within six weeks but, sadly, this one fell through the gap and it was quite an important one — it wasn’t someone wanting to prune an apple tree in their back garden.

“The district council needs to ensure that resources are made available for the officers to carry out its statutory duty in order to stop something like this happening again.”

Fellow tree warden Tom Bindoff, who lives opposite the site, said a horse chestnut tree and another tree were pruned at the same time.

“They look butchered,” he said. “I believe they haven’t been done in a professional way. It’s a very regrettable and sad situation. I understand there have been cutbacks and I know local authorities are under great pressure but this is an example of where they didn’t have the resources to carry out the necessary work.”

Miss Olivant said the work was carried out by a trained arboriculturalist.

She said: “Our main reason for cutting the trees is safety as with these high winds and global warming a lot of the branches have come down and we have been worried they might land on the house or a car.

“It’s a real pain to get it done and we don’t want to do it but it’s one of those things we have to do because of the safety concerns. My mother has asthma and she is affected by the spores that drop.”

Miss Olivant said she supported the idea of greater consultation and would be happy to speak to the tree wardens about any work in the future. A district council spokesman said: “A notice of proposed works to trees at Brook Street in the Watlington conservation area was received by the council on February 13.

“If the council considers that this work would be unacceptable then it must respond within six weeks of receipt of the notice by implementing a tree preservation order. If we do not respond then the applicant is able to proceed with the work.

“In this case we did not respond within the six weeks and therefore the applicant was entitled to continue the work.

“Our tree officers operate a district-wide service which has a target of responding to at least 90 per cent of notices within the six weeks. Last year, they exceeded this target by responding to nearly 93 per cent of notices.”

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