[Management of Trees in the City – Briefing Note attached].
The Head of Environmental Services introduced a briefing note on the subject of the Management of Trees in the City. Section two of the note outlined the ways trees were managed in the City dependent on the land in which they stood and the risk they presented. Trees close to the adopted highway were subject to a four yearly inspection and maintenance regime. All other trees were not maintained as part of a programme. There were 350,000 to 400,000 trees in parks, open spaces and cemeteries within the Wolverhampton area. The maintenance on these trees was reactive only. On education land, schools were responsible for their own tree maintenance regimes. Where schools had an SLA (Service Level Agreement) with Environmental Services, the service was reactive. Some schools had been encouraged to include an annual tree inspection into their SLA with environmental services.
The Head of Environment Services remarked that Corporate Landlord had an arrangement with Environmental Services for conducting reactive works. Canals, towpaths and railway lines were the responsibility of the Canal and River Trust and Network Rail. They followed a risk-based maintenance regime. On private land, all maintenance and safety issues were the responsibility of the owner.
The Head of Environmental Services commented that Trees that fell onto Highway land and Council Land, including privately owned trees, would be cleared. There were different categories of response depending on the situation, these were emergency, priority and routine. When members of the public had concerns about tree roots owned by the Council affecting their land, buildings and services, they were referred to the Council’s Risk Management and Insurance Team. They were advised to contact their home insurance company and arrange a survey. The survey would determine if there were grounds to make a claim against the Council.
The Head of Environment Services said that the Council did not respond to every request to prune trees on the adopted highway, the team would be despatched if it was thought the tree was dangerous. If Council owned trees were touching buildings, then the Council would prune them. Otherwise they encouraged people within reason to prune the trees to the boundary of their property. The Council did not normally respond due to loss of light caused by trees, for satellite and TV signal, or for tree debris. The Council operated a risk-based approach with only high risk trees maintained and inspected.
The Head of Environment Services stated that the briefing note outlined the concept of producing a cross directorate, Trees and Woodland Strategy. The Strategic Health Lead (City Planning) commented that the Woodland Trust had attended a recent meeting of the Council’s Sustainability and Advisory Group. As a consequence, Councillors had requested that Officers investigate what the Council could do to help support their agenda. This had culminated in the decision to produce a Trees and Woodland Strategy. The proposals would be taken to the Sustainability and Advisory Group at their meeting at the end of January.
The Head of Environment Services referred to section four of the report, financial implications. Due to recent changes in Legislation and Civil Law, Environmental Services had been advised by Insurance and Risk Management that the tree inspection and maintenance regime needed to be increased from the current four-year programme to a two-year programme. Changing to a two year programme would come at a cost. Insurance & Risk Management had also advised that recent Court of Appeal Cases had removed any defence the Council could put forward, if the Council could not demonstrate a risk-based approach to the management of trees. They had recommended resources were directed at identifying trees where there was a high risk in terms of potential exposure and that an inspection regime be implemented following the guidance in the cases. The current budget for the Highways Maintenance Tree Programme was £294,813.00. For parks, cemeteries and open spaces the budget was £40,201.00. As a result of the recent case law, more work was required on the implications. He commented that that there was a tree replacement programme, which amounted to £10,000. There were several locations they were considering for the forthcoming year.
A Member of the Panel commented that he was aware of a person who had replaced the footpath, three times outside their property because of tree roots. He was also aware of someone registered blind, where the lack of light caused by trees was making it harder for them to see. He knew of an elderly person having to pick up a large amount of leaves in their small garden. He believed vulnerable persons and people with disabilities needed to receive special consideration and reasonable adjustments made in line with the Equalities Act. He gave the example of leaves on the footpath outside vulnerable people’s households. The Cabinet Member for City Environment asked for the particular details of the footpaths to be shared by email and he would check if it was listed on the Autumn Leaf collection programme and its priority rating.
The Direct Works/Arboriculture Manager remarked that Sheffield Council had removed many of the trees in the City and had been fiercely criticised for the policy. City of Wolverhampton Council generally only removed trees if they were dangerous, dead or had become unmanageable.
Cllr Phil Bateman referred to the information in the briefing note, which stated that the average repudiation rate on insurance claims over the last three years was 85%. He asked Officers to write to him with the details of the cost for the remaining 15%. He also asked for Officers to provide him and the Panel with the amount of Tree Preservation Orders within the City of Wolverhampton Local Authority Area. The Strategic Health Lead responded that the Council did not put Tree Preservation Orders on trees the Council maintained but there were some on trees which the Council managed, for reasons such as the council acquiring land on which there was already a Tree Preservation Order in place.
The Cabinet Member for City Environment remarked that the Government had made some funding available for tree planting. Councils were able to bid for funding, but it had to be match funded. He praised the Council employees for their swift action during Storm Doris to remove the trees that were posing a hazard and the ongoing work completed by the team. Compared to other Local Authorities in the West Midlands he thought Wolverhampton ranked favourably in how they dealt with trees. He referred to the vast amount of information available on the Council’s website regarding trees.