The partially successful campaign to determine the future of the poplars at Stanborough Lakes.
Click Here for background
Update: March 22nd.
Beyond Belief...credit where credit isn't due!
How would you like to see this whole sorry affair represented in a way that is almost beyond comprehension?
To try and make political capital out of a dire course of events which dented the credibility of some councillors, the Handside ward Conservative newsletter recently distributed, contained the following article:
Those who followed this saga (which is recounted below*) will see it as affront that these people are claiming any sort of glory in this matter. They failed to consult the public, twice, and then voted for a solution which was widely opposed by many residents. The council to it's discredit produced a report which misrepresented a key fact; their favoured arboricultural company recommended the trees were not felled, but this was covered up. Of three arboricultural reports commissioned, only this one never saw the light of day until the trees fate had been sealed. They then contracted the arboricultural company who originally recommended immediate felling, to chop them all down, a win-win for that company.
The YouTube video that shows disgruntled residents objecting to the councils failure to consult can still be seen here .
After many public representations the council were forced to listen to residents. However the statement in these video clips which contains the line "The decision has been taken" shows there was no plan to consult, not at least until substantial pressure was applied by a significant number of people over many months.
Finally, I notice a really interesting feature on the new Google Streetview of Welwyn Garden City!
If you click here and see the view of Stanborough Road you can the trees have been felled.
But if you turn the corner onto the A6129 in Streetview the trees are miraculously still standing! Click here.
Obviously the Streetview car went past at different times, but it makes for a nice contrasting before and after experience.
It seems beyond belief that councillors who were complicit in the above, are now trying to claim some glory for the way the whole thing was managed. Worth remembering come election day.
*Please note that many of the links to articles from the council's own website are now broken, as they have now been moved, or removed entirely, from the council's website.
Update: September 13th
More good news...
The Environment committee rubber stamped the proposals put forward by the Task & Finish group. This means that pending cabinet approval on the 6th October, the views expressed by the public, through the consultation, have been adopted by the council and should now become policy.
This is the best result that could have been hoped for, given the protracted and often opaque nature of this whole affair. A better result would have been not have decimated the south car park, and to have adopted the more conservation minded approach as recommended by Gristwood & Toms in their survey, carried out for the council in 2007.
However, what is encouraging is that after the public furore which emerged back in July 08, the council has finally taken a more consultative approach on the matter. Albeit a year late, and after steaming ahead with the clearance of the south car park in the mean time.
The only fly in the ointment is that it has also been agreed that the north car park trees will now undergo an annual inspection, to see whether any new threats to health and safety are apparent. This presents the possibility of a foreshortening of the 15 year phased removal which has just been agreed. A definite possibility considering there are several councillors (Borough and County) still calling for a clear fell, despite public opinion to the contrary.
For completeness the (almost) original press release from July 08 re the decision to fell can be read here. A slightly different version appeared online a day before this one, but the gist is the same. There is a glaring inconsistency with this PR and the facts at that point, those who have been following this story will no doubt have spotted it!
From August 26th
The Task & Finish group met as planned. As I understand it protestations were made by the voting councillors and others at the meeting, they did not want to acknowledge and go forward with the options favoured by residents in the consultation. Preferring instead to yet again push for a total fell option. Luckily good sense and good management prevailed, the voting members finally agreed to present the favoured options from the consultation to the environment overview and scrutiny committee on the 10th of September.
The local paper today also did a brief piece about it which can be read HERE.
The consultation has closed and the results have been collected. With 217 responses received, a response rate described by the council as "phenomenal".
Phenomenal hopefully because it demonstrates the strength of feeling over the issue. The council seems to have been surprised all along that local people would take such and interest in this environmental and heritage matter. Perhaps, in future, before decisions are taken and announced without consulting anyone, they take a more participatory stance, and seek to include residents and local groups in decisions that affect our towns. Hopefully the existence of this web page, and the general awareness raising by other local groups, also played a part in the higher than expected response rate.
So what were the consultation results?
Question 1: What should we plant in the south car park?
Option 1: Exotic mix of trees - 28 votes.
Option 2: Native mix of trees - 190 votes. (87% of total)
Question 2: How should we approach the management of the north car park?
217 results received, they broke down into:
Option 1: Phased felling - 159 votes (about 73% )
Option 2: Fell all the trees at the same time: 55 votes (about 27%)
Question 3: Which planting scheme should be selected for the north car park?
Option 1: The same as the south car park - 177 votes (about 82%)
Option 2: a different scheme - 37 votes (about 18%)
The above data was taken from the WHBC public agenda document, available HERE.
These results clearly indicate what local preference is. They will now be discussed at the next Task & Finish Group meeting which is on the 25th August at 5:00PM at the Park lounge Campus West. You would hope that the consultation response data will underpin the decisions to be taken at this meeting, regarding how the Stanborough Poplars will now be managed.
The public agenda for the meeting includes the following comment:
"We received a large range of positive comments, though there were a few negative comments regarding the south car park."
- The fact that this comment made it in to the agenda at all, suggests that quite a lot of people expressed dismay, or worse, at the total fell without consultation approach to the south car park. Which of course has left the South car park the treeless broken tarmac expanse we have to endure today!
From July 11th:
The public consultation document from the council is now available in print and on their website.
Click HERE for the consultation leaflet.
Click HERE for the Word document that you can tick boxes in and email back to:
The main council webpage about it is HERE.
The survey have been kept simple and quick to complete. This means it is thin on detail but those who have followed the issue will be aware of the issues around the options being proposed. A year ago the council announced it was to fell ALL the trees with no public consultation. A year later, after a considerable objection to that decision we have at last been given the chance to influence the decision on the north car park trees and replanting scheme for both car parks. Too late of course for the south car park trees which were hastily felled, despite only one of the three professional reports undertaken recommending that course of action. Also worth remembering that the company who felled those trees, was the same company that recommended to WHBC that they be felled in their own professional report. Make of that what you will.
It is good for democracy and local participation that we do now have a chance to influence the future of the lakes car parks. It would be a great shame if local people did not take the opportunity to respond and complete this survey. So as to let WHBC know that we as stakeholders in our community and environment do wish to have a voice in such matters.
Mark Gilding from the council (Clare Berry's replacement) was interviewed on Three Counties radio at about 7:40 on Friday morning. He was publicising the above survey and came across in a very even handed way.
That interview can be heard again HERE. It's about three minutes.
Unfortunately the 8:00AM news bulletin took quite a bit of journalistic licence to his comments, how the interview was reported in the news headline can be heard HERE. It seems rather poor journalism on the part of the station to draw this conclusion from Mark's comment. That was clearly not what he said!
From 7th July.
Another T&F group meeting did in the end occur. The group was apparently "reconfigured" on rather flimsy grounds. At the meeting the five original voting members were now three. All of which were Conservative councillors, so much for balance in our alleged democratic process. Luckily, senior council officers were able to fend off a further attempt by the voting members to sanction felling of all the trees in the north car park. Common sense prevailed...just.
This week the long awaited public consultation about the replanting scheme and north car park poplars is due to appear. Hopefully residents will express a view on which of the options presented they prefer. The consultation paper will hopefully present an unbiased view of the options with no preference being alluded to on behalf of the council, let's wait and see.
Details of the survey form will appear here when they are released.
In the meantime, here is a link to a letter published in the Welwyn Times on 16th June concerning the apparent "quango" status of Finesse, and their rationale behind the desire to fell the trees.
From 1st June
Curiouser and curiouser... The last Task & Finish group meeting that was cancelled at the last moment never did get re-scheduled. No explanation has been given as to why. Looking at the council website HERE it shows the meeting scheduled for the April 8th, but this meeting never took place.
This Task & Finish group was set up by the council to show it was being consultative, a result of the public outcry from last summer when the decision to fell all the trees was announced with no public consultation at all. To then go on to mysteriously cancel one of these group meetings, with no explanation, shows that mere lip-service was being given to the idea of being consultative on such issues.Presumably they are hoping that the issue is old hat now, and nobody is paying attention, so they can act as they please.
It would appear that the next meeting is scheduled for the 29th of June at 7:00PM. The public are of course welcome to attend.
It's also worth remembering the words of Clare Berry, before she decided to stand down as Executive Member for the Environment a few weeks ago. She stated, in the her last radio interview, about the timeline of the Task and Finish group:
"The group will be finishing their conclusions around March time, during April and May any options will go out to the public for consultation"
- It's now June, things are slipping and we've not been told why. It will be at least July before this consultation goes out to the public. We deserve an explanation and update on what's going on?
The radio interview can be heard here (3 minute clip with her timeline details at the end). It's from Three Counties Radio on February 17th.
From April 28th.
The last meeting of the councils Task and Finish working group on April 8th was mysteriously cancelled at the last moment. People turned up to observe only to be told is was postponed. Currently no more information has been forthcoming as to why, and no new date has been set. The council website still shows the meeting as having happened (see HERE), but it didn't.
This is poor form on behalf of the council, and puts another dent in their claims of being consultative. Let's not forget that this group would not have been set up at all, if they had had their way from the outset. All the trees at Stanborough car parks would have long since been felled if it wasn't for the public outcry, forcing them to act in a more consultative way.
Let's hope this lack of communication and transparency by them is soon rectified! They could start by updating their own website.
From March 25th:
Some broad coverage of the issue in today's Welwyn and Hatfield times, read this article, which is a cut down version of that which made it into print for some reason.
Their was also a very good letter from the Welwyn Garden City Society that asked a number of questions, and indeed questioned the entire way our garden city seems to be being managed. Seemingly commercial contractors interests are taking precedence over the councils stated aim to preserve and protect the towns natural environment.
That letter can be read HERE.
Meanwhile the Task and Finish group has retired to consider which of the 5 replanting options presented for consideration in the south car park will go forward to a public consultation in coming months. More on that as things develop.
From March 16th
It has emerged that Finesse Leisure are promoting the felling of all the trees in the north car park. This position was not stated at the previous Task & Finish group meetings that they attended. It has now emerged in a letter from their Managing director to WHBC's Head of Community Services that if a clear fell is not carried out they will want certain costly conditions to be met. They seem to be ignoring the tree report recommendations.
It's worth remembering that they still do not have a legal contract in place with the council.
The Liberal Democrats have just issued a press release on the subject which can be read HERE.
The next Task & Finish Group meeting times are below, the public is welcome to attend them:
Thursday 4:00PM Ash/Beech Room, Campus East, Welwyn Garden City, Herts
Friday 2:30 PM Acorn Suite, Campus West, Welwyn Garden City, Herts
(Dates/times from the WHBC website).
From March 8th
Two new letters make the news this week, both call into question why the Gristwood and Toms tree report was not made public previously, and why it was suggested that all three tree reports advocated felling when it's now clear that they did not. Something seems to be amiss with the way the process works, if the cabinet members had read the G&T report they would have known there was a not a clear case case for felling, and yet despite this they all voted for it. In addition, their party colleagues all backed them up on doing so. I'm seeing parallels with the old rotten boroughs that existed in Victorian times! An interesting and informative website about one Hertfordshire mans experience within the system can be found HERE.
The quote from our former local hero, George Bernard Shaw, at the top of the page gave cause for a wry smile.
The letter in the WHT from Mike Hobday can be found HERE.
The letter in the WHT from Councillor Louise Lotz can be found HERE.
Update from 27th February
The story rumbled on this week as Claire Berry the executive member for the environment sought to defend the decision to fell the south car park trees in a letter to the Welwyn Times. Read the letter HERE. In it she states:
"At no time has any of the three reports, or any other issue relating to the decision by cabinet to fell trees at Stanborough Park, been misrepresented by either officers or councillors. Neither has there been any attempt to keep things under wraps." She goes on to mention the chronology of the three reports and that on balance the recommendation made, based on all three, was to fell.
The fact is that although the second report was referenced by Finesse and the council on several occasions, it had been seen by nobody outside the council until very recently. A freedom of information request was made mid last year which should have prompted its release, but the report was not released, even though both older and newer documents pertaining to the issue were released. The report was already around 18 months old by this time.
Perhaps because as we now know, the second report did not recommend felling of the trees. A subsequent report, prepared for the cabinet, designed to guide the cabinet on what decision to make stated "The conclusion drawn from the reports was that all of the poplars in both car parks should be felled" - Section 4.1 of doc item No: 7c on 07/10/08. Who could argue, nobody outside the council had sighted the second report at that point.
It was not until the second report surfaced only a few weeks ago, despite numerous calls for it last summer, that it became clear it did not recommend felling of the trees, except as a last resort. Quite the opposite in fact. To my knowledge this report has still not appeared on the council's website for all to see.
And yet we are told this week there was never any attempt to keep things under wraps! How come then, the second report was kept out of the public domain for about 6 months while the wrangling over the future of the trees was in full swing? How come the obligation to release under the FOI request was not met? I don't think this issue will be dead and buried until those questions receive credible and honest answers.
One last quote from the letter in this week's paper "When the trees were felled, disease was present in the base of all of the trunks". How do we know? Nobody was ever shown them, they were chipped before anybody got a chance to see them. Except for the one slice of trunk offered up for inspection at a council meeting, it later transpired that this slice of trunk didn't even come from the south car park but the north! Surely if every trunk were diseased they would have picked a specimen from the 195 felled trees in the south car park to drive their point home? Of course you could also scroll down this page and look at the tree photo's taken in the very brief interval between felling and chipping, do they all look like diseased trunks that pose a threat to life and limb?
There is much more to say on this story, hopefully in the end the truth will out. Hopefully lessons will be learnt and we'll see a lot more inclusiveness and transparency in the way such local issues are managed by our local administration. Which is supposed to answer to us, the electorate and residents of Welwyn Hatfield Borough.
Let's also not forget that Finesse who have managed the Lakes (and the car parks) in partnership with the council for many years still don't appear to have signed a contract with them, for reasons best known to themselves. Comment on that situation HERE.
From 17th February.
The task and finish group set initiated by WHBC has now met several times. On the last occasion external interest groups were invited to attend and give their view. The WGC Society was the main external contributor and presented the case for following the recommendations of the most technically detailed and competant of the three tree reports. Based on these expert recommendations, from the ACF 2006 report, and the just revealed (for reasons still unclear) 2007 Gristwood & Toms report, a phased approach was proposed.
The minutes of that meeting can be read HERE and also on the WHBC Coins system web site (http://coins.welhat.gov.uk/default.asp).
Yesterday morning councillor Berry popped up on Three Counties Radio breakfast show, talking about the poplars again. It was only a short piece, and she was not asked about the mysterious and belated appearance of the second tree report, and it's findings. Which did not recommend felling all the trees in the south car park, as was the impression given last summer. Sadly she was not also also asked why it was that Cleartrack ACF, authors of the only report to recommend felling all the trees, went on to get the contract for felling all the trees in the south car park. It was certainly a win-win for that company.
Nevertheless, you can listen to the interview in full by clicking HERE (mp3 format).
Claude Monet's depiction of poplars from 1891 "Poplars on
the Epte". He featured poplars in several of his paintings.
From the 28th January.
The Review newspaper has run a story about the second arborcultural report on the poplars, which had until recently never been seen. This report was referenced numerous times by WHBC, including in the council's own report to cabinet, which was then used as a basis for deciding the fate of the trees in the south car park on October 7th.
The report prepared for the cabinet meeting stated:
"Finesse sought two opinions on the risk posed by the trees, one from ACF Associates in August 2006 and a second from
the Council’s main contractor, Gristwood and Toms in January 2007. The conclusion drawn from the reports was that all of the poplars in both car parks
should be felled" - Section 4.1 of doc item No: 7c on 07/10/08.
The minutes from that cabinet meeting duly followed suit:
(1) That the trees in the south car park at Stanborough Lakes be felled within the next three months in line with risk assessments received from three different consultants all of whom concurred on the level of risk posed by these trees to the public using this car park and that the thirty four trees identified in the consultant’s report which needed to be
removed now in the north car park also be felled." - Section 1, p.8.
The key point: This second report is now in the public domain and it does not concur with the first report as indicated in the above statement, it does not say all the trees should be felled. It says the trees should be preserved if possible, and replaced in a phased manner, if they are to be replaced. It states of felling all the trees "This would have a massive impact on the parks visual amenity and wildlife habitat value".
The article in the Review can be read HERE.
What's puzzling is that this elusive second report was not released under a freedom of information request back in the summer, the older first report and the bat report was, but this one wasn't. If that report had been made public, the discourse that followed, and the cabinet's resolved decision above may well have been different. This is speculation, we will never know, but we do know several hundred trees are now sawdust, when perhaps a phased approach could have been adopted.This report's recommendations were ignored, and the councils statement that all the poplars should be felled accordingly was apparently false.
Let's hope logic and objectivity prevails when decisions are made about the north car park trees.
Update 25th January.
The task and finish group has now met a couple of times, i'm told there has been little involvement so far of anyone outside of the chosen group of councillors.
However on Tuesday week (3rd of Feb) the next meeting will be held at 5:00PM at the Campus West. This meeting is open to the public and should be interesting in that it should involve contributions from outside the task and finish group. This could be a critical meeting where the future of the north car park trees may begin to be decided. Other developments in this saga which look set to emerge soon should also make this a lively debate.
The meeting timing isn't very convenient, but in order to see logic and transparency prevail in the north car park decision making process, having people in the public gallery would i'm sure be welcomed by all involved.
Update 6th January.
A letter about the poplars was published in the 24th December edition od the Welwyn& Hatfield Times. It attempts to summarise the sequence of events to date and points out inconsistencies. It can be read HERE.
From 17th December
It is suggested that "The lady doth protest too much". In THIS recent letter to both local newspapers Nigel Quinton unpicks recent events surrounding the south car park clear felling. He asks why WHBC was so at pains to justify it's clear fell decision to the media, when several local observers did not see the level of decay in ALL the trees that WHBC claimed their was, before speedily having them all reduced to sawdust. The process that led this action is also put under scrutiny and some uncomfortable facts highlighted.
From 14th December
Councillor Louise Lotz had a letter printed in this weeks Welwyn and Hatfield Times regarding the lack of any proper consultation over the plight of the trees. The letter also pleads for a better more inclusive approach in the future. That letter can be read HERE.
The focus now remains on the decisions that will be made on the north car park, news on that will appear here as it emerges.
From 30th November
More coverage in this week Welwyn & Hatfield Times though the printed article is not in the free online edition. It was also front page in the free Review newspaper, that article can be read HERE.
The main members of the task and finish group, who will review the options for the north car park trees was decided at last weeks council meeting. Other non-voting members may yet be co-opted to help out as needed.
The main councillor members are:Helen Bromley -Chair.- Handside
Louise Lotz - Peartree
Colin Croft - Hatfield Central
Julie Cragg - Welwyn East
Colin Crouch- Northaw and Cuffley
If one of these is your local councillor you might want to make your views known to them so they can represent your views to the T&F group.
From 25th November
Interview with Nigel Quinton at about 8:00 this morning. Great interview, all the major points about the issue are covered in a couple of minutes.
Download or listen to it <HERE>
A follow up interview with a WHBC cabinet member took place which can be heard <HERE>
Incredibly in this interview it is claimed that all the trees are rotten. Clearly not the case if you look at the pictures below.
This was challenged by a caller at the end of the show, that can be heard <HERE>
Contrary to the above sentiment, the people were not part of any decision and the felling began early this morning. Ignoring local opinion these landmarks at the main entry point of WGC are currently being felled. See the first pictures below.
Interesting to see they are being chooped down by Cleartrack. ACF associates were/are a division of Cleartrack, part of Salcey - EVL limited based in Milton Keynes, and all sharing the same office address.
ACF were contracted to produce the first report on the trees in 2006 and recommended in a fairly brief report that they all be felled. Now they have been awarded the contract to do the felling. Presumably other companies also bid for this contract when it was put out to tender. This question was asked at the Lakes meeting and no clear answer was given.
Here are a few pictures from about 9:30AM on Monday morning:
Some local protestors at the scene:
Latest update 24th November.
Monday Morning from 9:00AM: The south car park trees begin to be felled. Go along, have a look, voice your disgust at this undemocratic decision.
Monday Evening 7:30: Council commitee meeting at Campus West. Go along, observe the meeting, help to stop north car trees from being dealt the same fate.
Bad News. It has been revealed that the trees in the south car park, and 30 trees in the north car park will start to be felled on Monday November 24th. Despite protestations and any clearly defined public consultation process, (the report of which was completed 10 days before the consultation period actually ended) WHBC are pushing ahead regardless. Which company actually won the felling contract after due tender process remains to be discovered.
The 24th will be a sad day for local democracy, and a sad day for the poplars, a landmark of the town for decades.
It is also the day the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee meets to discuss the fate of the rest of the trees in the north car park. I would suggest public attendence at that meeting might be a way to show the disgust local people feel at the incredibly poor and non-inclusive way this matter has been managed by the council.
We, as town residents lose, our environment loses, some private contractors win. What a sorry mess.
Update 5th November
Todays Welwyn & Hatfield Times has two letters about the trees. One of them regonises the fact that the recent snow fall which damaged so many broadleaf trees left the Poplars unaffected. It questions whether WHBC are pointing their health and safety concerns at the right trees!
The other letter focusses on the proceedings of the meeting on the 7th, that can be read here.
Update 30th October
The council have now released the minutes to the controversial cabinet meeting on the 7th of October. They are buried on the WHBC website, or you can get them HERE.
The questions from the public and the answers are all contained within, reading the answers it is easy to see that many of them fail to properly address the questions. However, due to the format of the meeting the scripted answers were not allowed to be challenged by the questioners. These somewhat insufficient answers were all that the council leadership had to supply, knowing that they could not be challenged further by the questioners.
Their are several comments which could be made about the contents of these minutes, this passage sticks out however (pp. 9-10):
The wording of the initial WHBC press release on 22nd July was that the decision to fell had been taken. The consultation was to cover only the replanting scheme, it was a given that the felling would happen, even though at that point not even the Handside councillors knew about it. This was re-iterated at the start of the angry meeting at the Lakes a few weeks later. The information sheet mentioned was scant, and why was it not put on the WHBC website where more people would have seen it? Exactly where was it displayed at the Lakes, on one of the 673 doomed trees perhaps?
This distribution, in fact the distribution of any of the facts surrounding the poplars has not been widespread in any respect by WHBC (hence this web page).
In a similar vein to the above, the WGC Society has formally complained to the councils Governance Officer about aspects of the consultation process and is awaiting a reply. A letter concerning that was published in the Welwyn & Hatfield Times on October 22nd and can be read HERE.
Clearly this whole episode has a way to run yet.
Update from 26th October.
Last weeks Welwyn and Hatfield Times contained a letter from the WGC Society expressing dissatisfaction at the outcome of the last cabinet meeting.
That letter can be read HERE.
The next meeting this subject will be discussed at is the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the 24th November, a date for you diary.
Other action is afoot and more news will appear here as things develop.
From 15th October.
The free paper the Review, has good front page coverage of this story, including the scrutiny committee referral, it can be read here.
Page 2 of today's Welwyn & Hatfield Times has a half page story covering the cabinet meeting last week (covered below). The story is not yet on the papers website.
To summarise it puts a positive spin on the meeting saying "Hundreds of trees spared the chop for up to 20 years". It says that 427 trees have been spared, partly as a result of public opposition to the plan. I think everybody reading this can give themselves a pat on the back for that, hundreds of people have read this page in the last few weeks, proving we won't be passive victims of apathy.
However, something big is missing from this article. Nowhere does it mention that the fate of the north car park trees will be referred to the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The decision to do that was taken at the meeting and it potentially means the 10-20 year life span figure the article mentions several times could be as little as a few months. This committee next meets on the 24th November. Whether this subject is on the agenda is yet to be determined. See the last post for details of the imbalance in the members of that committee.
This decision was a major part of the meeting and is recorded in the councils cabinet decision list, and also in the consultation report which was completed on the 19th of September, 10 days before the consultation period actually ended. That can be found here.
Why was it not reported in the article? This gives the public a general impression that all is well and that WHBC have taken on board local views, which is not the case.
It was clear that on the night of the meeting their was going to be no other conclusion, as nobody on the cabinet moved away from the scripted answers or stage managed Q&A.
The second part of this article looks more like a creation of the WHBC media team, who were also present at the meeting.
At the end of the article a leader of the respected Welwyn Garden City Society is stated:
"It is a matter of regret they chose to ignore the points put to them in both submitted questions, and questions from the floor (during the meeting). No real account was taken of the alternative in the latest report and so I came to the conclusion that their decision making is NOT transparent."
I find no argument at all with that statement.
Update from12th October
Nothing new to say, just a comment on the inevitability of what's going to happen next. As you can see below the fate of the north car park trees has been left to the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This is because WHBC would prefer to fell every poplar in that car park as per their original "decision", but the 3rd report stated that phased replacement is an option. So in a bid to try and show that they can be even handed about things they decided to put the decision back to this overview committee.
It is very clear to all that the cabinet and the leader of the council would prefer to fell these trees. But in the name of accountablity the overview committee is called upon to make that decision.
That committee is made up of 10 people, 8 of them Conservatives including the chairman. To date no Conservative councillor has dared to go against the wishes of the leader of the council and his cohorts on this matter.
It's pretty certain that trend will continue into the overview committee, again a democratic decision on behalf of the residents of Welwyn Hatfield will fail to materialise, unless of course a few people discover some backbone in the very near future.
Details on the committee can be found here.
October 7th (post cabinet meeting):
A pretty good turnout overall. The room wasn’t full but not far off. People were well behaved, if anything the atmosphere was probably a little too subdued, light years away from the August 7th meeting.
There seemed to be fair amount of stage management.
questions posed by the public received scripted answers read out the leader of
the council. No dialogue was possible and he kept to the scripted responses of
unknown authorship. The answers could not be challenged.
Several cabinet members asked questions but none involved any opposition to the proposed plans to fell. They were not really questions, but more of a prompting exercise to allow their peers to try and further justify the decision to fell. Again it seemed very much like a scripted exercise.
Some very good points were later made by non cabinet councillors and others, but these were by and large dismissed with little actual debate on the detail.
Again there was talk of the replanting scheme but no details at all.
It was stated that the loss of the poplars would have no impact on wildlife. It was said that as Lombardy poplars are not native they are not relevant to the ecology of the area.
The cabinet agreed the following recommendations:
Fell the trees in the south car park at Stanborough Lakes
within the next 3 months in line with risk assessments received from three
different consultants all of whom concur on the level of risk posed by these
trees to the public using this car park.
3.2 Proceed with the treatment of the stumps, their grinding out and the preparation of the land in readiness for replanting in winter 2009.
3.3 Requests that Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee:
1. Examines the criteria that the consultants used to arrive at their very different opinion of the risk the trees in the north car park pose to the public using this car park in conjunction with the Council’s risk management team and report back to Cabinet with a judgement and recommendation.
2. Explore the proposal recommended by FLAC to execute a two phased
removal of the trees and replanting of the north car park, the timescale involved and the impact this will have on the current planting design for both car parks. In doing so consider any other phasing options.
3. Considers alternative landscaping schemes for both car parks.
4. Recommends to the Cabinet a preferred course of action with regard to the north car park together with a preferred landscaping scheme for the south and north car parks.
They are pushing forward with their original plan to fell, as per the “decision” announced in July. The only small change being a further consideration of extent of the felling in the north car park. The FLAC report differs in this respect to the ACF report and does not advise clear felling. However the FLAC report also recommends re-surfacing of the car parks but this recommendation has been dismissed as unnecessary, for reasons not entirely clear, although many would hazard a guess.
This meeting was conducted with more grace and respect than the last, but the outcome was no different. With all councillors around the table being of the same political persuation individual dissent and breaking of rank due to personal convictions seems as distant a prospect as ever.
Taking stock and discussion.
Update 2nd October.
Just to highlight this statement in yesterday's Welwyn Hatfield Times from the Cabinet member for the environment:
"This is a decision which will have to be taken in the best interests of visitors, and taking into acount the views of arboreal experts as well as local residents groups".
Hang on a minute...
Henry Girling is an arboreal expert, there is no indication at all that his view has been taken into account.
There is also no evidence to support the claim that the view of local residents will be taken into account. So far there have been two "consultations":
1) The first, announced alongside the initial "decision to fell" in July was billed only as consultation on the replanting scheme, not the felling. The questions about the actual felling which arose from that during the public meeting at Stanborough were collected by the council. See below.
2) The second "consultation" asked for residents views to be submitted to Finesse Leisure by the 29th September, and then a report would be made for the cabinet to review prior to making any decision on October the 7th.
Strange then how that report, intended to brief the cabinet members, became available a day later on the 30th, BUT was dated the 19th of September a full 10 days before the consultation period actually finished!
In addition the report has an appendix which lists some of the questions received at the Stanborough meeting (point 1 above), but then makes no attempt to address them!
Therefore, as far as we can see both of the so called "consultations" have failed to take any account of public opinion, WHBC, so far, have clearly not listened to residents at all.
If a decision is made to fell all the trees on the 7th October, with essentially no notice taken whatsover of local public and professional opinion, it would be fair to say that WHBC are denying residents their right of participatory inclusion in matters that concern them.
A sorry state indeed in our present age of rights based empowerment, and one which will no doubt be of interest to institutions whose role in life it is to ensure rights are granted to individuals and groups in civil society.
From 30th September.
WHBC have now made available their joint report on the poplars which is intended to inform the cabinet for the meeting on the 7th.
It can be read and downloaded HERE. the gist of it seems to be that their opinion is largely unchanged from their original stance.
After being approached my many residents, the Welwyn Garden City Society evaluated the proposals concerning the Lombardy Poplars and has now written to Finesse Leisure/WHBC stating its position. In the letter the society recommends a considered approach that does not detract from the amenity of the area, and allows for the staged renewal of the poplars over a period of time. The remit of the society is to preserve and conserve the local environment and anything else of value in the town. It's voice is a welcome addition to the campaign.
The letter from the society is a recommended read and can be found HERE.
It has also been circulated to the media.
From 28th September...Just some background...
The latest report on the trees (below) is very detailed and was produced by Julian Forbes-Laird who is clearly very well qualified, experienced, and respected within the Arbor industry.
As Mr Forbes-Laired states in the report he is part of the drafting group for a new British Standard (BS3998) "Recommendations for Tree Work". The British Standard is not yet finalised and draft versions have been highly controversial and attracted a fair bit of negative media coverage. The standard is "Regulation gone wild" according to one article. The Health and Safety Executive and the Forestry Commission have voiced concern that the new standard represents a heavy handed approach to tree felling (according to recent articles).
Most tellingly, the chairman of the Risk and Regulatory Advisory Council, a government body, says:
"It is surely no coincidence... that among the most active proponents of the new standard are the tree professionals who stand to gain most from a more burdensome inspection regime." (The Economist, June 08).
However, the British Standards Institute is not a government body; it is a profit making business. It has a long history and has been very successful. However as we see here, those that produce its standards may have their own business interests in the industry to which the standard pertains. An analogy might be a police station sergeant making the law, rather than parliament doing it.
Below are some links to articles that criticise this new standard, they make interesting reading. It's worth bearing this background information in mind when reading the council's report from Mr Forbes-Laird. He is obviously a highly competent professional, but his involvement in this new standard, and the fact that he recommends that the majority of Stanborough trees should be felled, is indicative of where he himself sits in the debate between tree preservation and felling.
Links to articles:
The Economist The Telegraph The Daily Mail The Times(1)
The Times(2) Halifax Courier Financial Times
The new tree survey has been released today to the WHBC website. It seems to be a far more comprehensive report than the last one that was made public, and also comes to different conclusions.
It's quite a large document with a number of appendices, the whole report can be downloaded from the council website here. The associated press release was here. but has now been removed by WHBC.
A high level summary of the survey recommendations would be:
* Every other row of trees to be felled in the north car park, replacements could be planted after 3-6 months.
* One new row of trees recommended for the north car park.
* The remaining trees in the north car park should be replaced in phases over the next ten years.
* All trees in the south car park, except those at the far end annex, should be felled now on the grounds of public safety. Replacements could be planted after 3-6 months.
* The south carpark has a different recommendation to the north because quote: "the trees in the south car park have been subjected to unsympathetic past
management. Apparent subsequent neglect at a strategic level has allowed the development of an unfortunate situation."
* Recommendations are made that the car parks are resurfaced with a porous material to help the replanted trees thrive.
So what happens now?
WHBC are asking for comment on the report to be sent direct to Finesse Leisure by the 29th of September.
The comment will then inform the next cabinet meeting on the 7th October where a decision will be taken on how the trees will be dealt with.
The local working group will also put forward its views, and be present at this meeting. Anybody who is concerned about the trees, and the way this situation has been handled should also attend this meeting to show their concern, it's also a good opportunity to see local democracy in action.
The address for Finesse Leisure for sending comments on the latest report is:
Finesse Leisure Partnership (Head Office)
Welwyn Garden City
Tel: 01707 357179
Fax: 01707 336162
From September 14th
A constructive meeting of the residents working group concerned with the poplars took place on Friday evening. There was overall agreement on the aims of the group and a consideration of various options going forward.
However, the most critical issue currently is the release of the 3rd consultant survey on the state of the poplars. This survey, we believe, is now in the hands of WHBC and we will be pressing for its release as soon as possible. With the forthcoming cabinet meeting on October 7th the findings of this report need to be released as early as possible, so they can be circulated and digested in advance of thecabinet meeting.
As soon as the report is released this site will have the details.
From September 10th
The issue gets significant coverage in this weeks Welwyn Hatfield Times. The WHBC full council meeting last week which was reported here on the day it happened, also seems to have added fuel to the debate and has only served to inflame feeling and generate yet more questions.
There is clearly a long way to go before the future of the poplars is resolved. The local "coalition of the willing" will aim to represent a consensus view on how the matter should proceed from here. Including, which of the many unanswered questions on this subject demand answers.
Here are the latest articles raising very important questions which may serve to frame the debate going forward:
Click below to read:
Letter in WHT from Nigel Quinton.
Lib Dem Press Release about the poplars.
A letter was also published from Malcolm Cowan this week, questioning some councillors treatment of town bulwark Dennis Lewis, in connection with the poplars issue. Whilst this may not advance the cause of the poplars per se, it does provide a flavour of the contemporary cut and thrust of local politics within council chambers. It can be read here.
This site intends to remain outside of party political persuasions. It is a fact though that most local community activists also represent parties. The links on these pages may lead to information supplied by one or many local activists and their respective political parties, but no endorsement or preference is intended. The prime goal of the site is to raise awareness of environmental, planning and social issues around Welwyn Hatfield. To sustain and improve the area by way of keeping people informed, in a hopefully unbiased and accurate way.
If you have access to any other recent articles from whatever source this site will gladly accept them (copyright permitting).
From September 3rd
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a very effective piece of legislation for promoting transparency in government agencies. As stated by the government the Freedom of Information Act does not place restrictions on how you may use the information received under it.
Their is a very recent response to an F.O.I request regarding the poplars, and several important documents relating to the issue have now been released. They are useful background information for anyone interested in the subject. Details of this request is not yet on the website mentioned below but should be in due course.
Click the button below for the documents, Mike Hobday is credited for going through the official F.O.I process and having them released to the public domain.
There is a very good website for anybody who is interested called What Do They Know? Which has a database of all F.O.I requests that anyone can search. For example you can put "Welwyn Garden City" in the search box and see the exchanges regarding the apparent loss of the geological surveys for Splashlands at Stanborough.
That website is HERE.
From September 1st.
As predicted on the 21st August WHBC have now removed the press release about the felling from their website, so the link is broken. However this press release is now in the public domain so if you still want to read it you can find it HERE.
Tonight there was council meeting at the Campus. The felling of the poplars was not on the agenda. But an amended motion from the Lib Dems was on the agenda, in the wake of the lack of clarity from the council about who and when the decision was taken to fell the poplars. The motion called for "a root and branch examination of the way in which the council takes decisions, and then communicates with the public".
This motion and the trees in general were then discussed for around an hour, a frank exchange of views was had and some surprising things were said. Labour and Lib Dem councillors made clear and concise cases for why thought there was general communication breakdown within the council, and this issue served to highlight that. However the council members mostly found this contemptible and practically tried to "laugh it out of court". On the final vote the motion was defeated 35 to 7, mostly because the Conservatives are the overwhelming majority in the council. In fact there was some distinct grandstanding and smug arrogance about this fact which was rather unsavoury, in my view.
Here are a few other key points of note worth a mention here:
Clare Berry, Cabinet member for the environment and community said that the 09/08 meeting at the Lakes was hijacked by the vociferous few who were from unelected pressure groups. You may recall that this was the meeting she did not bother to attend.
When asked why she did not attend John Dean chairman of the cabinet said to the audience "I congratulate Claire for not bothering to go". Make of that what you will.
There were many references to the Lakes meeting and picture was painted by those who were not there that seemed at odds with reality. Several references were also made to the You Tube clips which are linked in a previous post below.
It was also stated that "no examination will ensue" of the trees. But that a third report was now being produced and will complete on the 11th September. A week later it will be put on the council website. If this report is in the same vein as the others the trees will then come down as soon as possible.
In summary the cabinet were not going to move an inch on this. John Mansfield claimed this whole matter was trivial. It was said that the council was on warning for a manslaughter charge if the trees did not now come down.
Remaining apolitical in all this is hard but in the end the losers are us, the residents and tax payers. If Ian Hislop were there I'm pretty certain he'd have said "If that's democracy I'm a banana".
If anybody is thinking about going to the next meeting I urge you to go, let them know the public is watching, and is not as apathetic as they like to think!
From August 27th
The next WHBC Cabinet meeting is on the 9th of September at 7:30 at the Council offices in WGC. However at this point it's unclear whether the Poplars will be discussed, its probable that they will be discussed in October to allow more time for information gathering. Watch this space for confirmation of which month as soon as its available!
Here is a link to the councils calendar page, select the month at the top to see the meeting schedules: CALENDAR
The story is covered again on page 3 of this weeks Welwyn & Hatfield Times, a link to the online version here.
Just a note that this page has now been viewed almost 700 times which shows the continued strength of feeling on the issue. The news of the felling broke here, and on the Welwyn Hatfield Forum first.
This page will continue updated as soon as there are new developments or other information to report, the aim is to provide a neutral platform to keep everyone "in the loop" as things progress.
New link below and here to the letter in this weeks Welwyn and Hatfield Times from Dennis Lewis.
From August 21st
The BBC Look East program from the 18th never made it to their website. The site went from having Fridays edition to Tuesdays, missing out on Monday's entirely so the article is lost.
Today's Welwyn and Hatfield Times has two very good letters about the trees from supporters, although the free online edition does not carry them. We will try and get the letters for publication on this website.
Just a reminder that WHBC's original announcement about tree felling is still on their website and can be read through the link section below. Although saying this will probably hasten its removal from their website so get in early!
From August 19th.
No sign of the BBC Look East story yet, the website still only has last Friday's edition.
There is a new link below and here to the statement that recently appeared on the Finesse Leisure site.
There still seems to be a lack of clarity over who was vested with the responsibility to make the decision regarding the tree felling. It's now important to confirm who will be charged with making any future decisions.
From August 14th
The BBC Three Counties radio interview this morning can be heard HERE
Watch out for a TV report on BBC Look East. You can keep an eye on the website for the programme here.
UPDATE: The story was broadcast today (18th) i'll put a link here when it becomes available on the BBC website.
From August 13th
A member of the public who attended the public meeting outdoors at Stanborough Lakes took some footage of it, and has posted some clips on YouTube. Here are some links to the clips hosted by YouTube:
Clip 1 Clip 2 Clip 3 Clip
4 Clip 5 New: Clip 6 Clip 7
Please note that this site is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
Listen out for the story on this program tomorrow morning (14th August):
Breakfast Wed 13 Aug, 06:00 - 09:00 Information, discussion and travel every 15 minutes. Stephen Rhodes (Beds/Herts/Bucks): 90.4, 92.1, 94.7, 95.5, 98 and 103.8FM. Morning MK with Helen Legh: 104.5FM (Milton Keynes).
A listen again link will appear if it becomes available after the article is broadcast.
A Request: A third news article appeared in the 13th August print edition entitled "Tree-felling not a done deal" is currently omitted from the free online edition. If the author is out there we would be happy to publish it on this page. The same applies to the very articulate letter given prime position on this weeks letters page.
See the bottom of the page for a new photo of the trees in question.
Today email confirmation was received from council chief executive Michel Saminaden that they will not proceed with felling any trees in September, as was originally communicated. A decision about the trees will be made by the cabinet, probably in its October meeting. Watch this space for more details as they emerge. Hopefully a more inclusive and wide ranging consultation will be undertaken before any final decisions are made.
From 9th August:
A public meeting took place on 7th August between Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, Finesse Leisure and concerned members of the public. The atmosphere at the meeting was heated to say the least and the intended agenda was not really adhered to. This was a result of the strength of feeling evident in those who were in opposition to the plan. It was clear from the outset that WHBC's intention was that the meeting was designed to allow them to present their rationale for felling the trees, and to then field any questions relating to it. For them, the tree felling was a done deal and the meeting was intended to quell any dissent.
Most attendees had a very different view. They questioned whether there had been any real consultation about the decision, and whether transparency and democracy had played any part at all in the process so far. Actions were taken to investigate this immediately, see table below (courtesy of Dennis Lewis).
Most importantly it was stressed that the planned felling in September must now be halted pending the above investigation.
Other crucial points to emerge which are need in need of written clarification from the council are:
a) Exactly how many trees do they want to fell, and how many will be replanted to replace them. Numbers bandied about were 673 felled and 150 planted, or perhaps 500 planted? These numbers need to be clarified once and for all.
b) Request for the council to provide data for the amount, or percentage, of dangerous or damaged trees identified at both car parks. Some kind of risk assessment. Can the report be made public?
c) Local Handside councillors were unaware of the plan until a story appeared in the Welwyn Times in late July, the original report condemning the trees was completed back in 2006. Why were they not told?
Subsequent to the meeting, a "coalition of the willing" was formed and a few more facts and the outline of a forward plan have been circulated.
|1 Contrary to what we were told, no decision has been made on the removal of the Lombardy poplars !|
|2 The Handside ward Councillors will be consulted on the Council's plans on August 29th|
|3 There will be a public consultation and the Cabinet will meet in October to make a decision. That meeting will be open to the public and it will help to have a "House Full" notice on the door !|
|4 Moves are in hand by our ward Councillors to get any decision scrutinised by the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee.|
|5 We have received a copy of the consultant's report, dated 2006.|
|6 Discussions are under way in the WGC Society, together with the ward Cllrs, to determine the way ahead - whether and when to call a meeting of the "working group" in the light of the latest information.|
|7 Since the southern car park is in Hatfield Central ward, we will be contacting the three Councillors from that ward. To elicit their support.|
Thanks to Dennis Lewis for collating the above on behalf of the WGC Society.
It is still early days and the above is likely to be updated, this webpage will endeavour to keep up to date as things progress.
The focus of the
opposition at this moment is about the process that was followed by the council
which allowed this decision (or near decision) to advance so far with apparently
little consultation of local views, be they councillors or the public.
Background to campaign
There is plan to chop down the trees at Stanborough Lakes car parks. With the justification seemingly on very flimsy evidence.
The plan is to chop them all down during September. They will be replaced by new saplings and hedges over a year later. I wonder how many of those would survive and how many years before the greenery (biomass) reaches today's level.
This act would go against the councils own Tree Strategy for Welwyn Hatfield and be contrary to the district plan.
The traffic noise from the A1M would increase degrading the local environment.
There seems to be no clear reason for doing this and local consultation has not been undertaken so far.
The money would be better spent on cleaning up the lakes and developing a new swimming pool for the Splashlands site.
It's clearly against the ethos of the town and further dilutes our Garden City.
The trees have been there many years, what's changed in terms of safety to bring about this decision. How many insurance claims have their been?
WHBC Tree Strategy document is here.
Council website news item here. - Now removed by WHBC!
Finesse Leisure's feedback form here or there is an email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Latest statement on the trees from Finesse is here.
First article in the Welwyn Times here (July 29th).
Second article in the Welwyn Times here (August 6th).
Dennis Lewis letter in the Welwyn Times here (August 20th).
Facebook Group about the issue here.
Welwyn Hatfield forum thread here.
The author of this website can be contacted at through welwynhatfield.co.uk here.
Please also write to Finesse Leisure with your views, they appear to be coordinating the responses on behalf of WHBC, at:
Finesse Leisure Partnership,
4th Floor, Campus West WGC,
About Lombardy Poplars (from http://store.ashridgetrees.co.uk/Lombardy-Poplar-Populus-nigra-Italica):
To put the scale of the removal of this significant tract of deciduous trees into perspective here are some photo's of the area from above, practically all the trees shown would be felled.
Is that what the residents of a "Garden City" would want? Who knows, they haven't been consulted!
Car park area north side:
Car park area south side:
Just a few of the trees in question, Courtesy of a member of the Welwyn Hatfield forum - Do they all appear to be ready for the chop?
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