Recent letter, in large part published in both the Welwyn & Hatfield Times and the Review:
ROTTEN TO THE CORE?
Cllr Berry’s pronouncements on the radio and in the local papers last week concerning the state of the felled trees prompt me to ask who or what is actually rotten to the core? Certainly there is little objective evidence that the trees at Stanborough Park can be so described. As for the process of local democracy...? Let us consider the sequence of events:
In 2006 Finesse Leisure (the outsourced council leisure department) received a report from ACF (an affiliate of Cleartrack) declaring the trees to be dangerous and that they should be removed within two years.
For two years nothing happened and no public communication was made, although in January 2007 the council commissioned its own report from its “main contractor”, Gristwood & Toms.
Then Cllr Berry announced this summer that the trees were to be cut down – all 700 odd – but it was OK, it was for Health and Safety reasons; Finesse announced a public meeting which was to be held in August (when most residents would be away).
At this meeting it emerged that the contractor chosen to fell the trees was none other than Cleartrack, the affiliate of ACF who had recommended their demise. Public uproar prompted the council to commission a third report (by FLAC) and a “consultation” was held with comments invited up to the date of 30th September. Meanwhile the Tory leader, Cllr John Dean, publicly congratulated Clare Berry for not attending the public meeting.
The FLAC report concluded that risk was ‘slight’ in the north car park, and ‘moderate’ in the south, but recommended the southern trees be cleared anyway on aesthetic grounds, despite saying (buried in an appendix) that the immediate response should be to pollard these trees.
Meanwhile the council sent a report to cabinet. This ignored the inconvenient parts of the FLAC report, persisted in the myth that all the trees were dangerous and the risk was ‘high’ and failed to address the questions raised by the public who had called for the trees to be pollarded and for a financial assessment of the alternatives. Of course, it was difficult for the report to address these – it was written ten days before the close of the consultation!
On October 7th the cabinet met, allowed 8 questions from the public but failed to answer most of them, and duly made the recommended decision. The decision had quite clearly been made beforehand and the “debate” was a sham.
The trees duly came down (felled by Cleartrack) and the council are now saying that the trees in the park were all rotten - and the proof is a pile of woodchips, one rotten tree stump, and several donut shaped cross sections from a much-vaunted single tree. This contradicts the evidence seen by observers at the site; most of the trees being cut down were in good condition, and an analysis of the pictures taken shows only one out of 11 trunks with any sign of serious decay.
Cllr Berry has been on the radio and quoted in the press to say that (a) the trees were dangerous and HAD to be removed, and (b) the level of decay was far worse than expected – neither statement seem to be justified by the evidence or by the reports.
One is tempted to suggest that the lady doth protest too much. To me it suggests that she took a flyer on the decision and is now desperate to justify it.
Lemsford Resident and Chair of Welhat Liberal Democrats
PS My councillor colleague Louise Lotz reports that the council are now saying (Social Overview & Scrutiny committee 4th Dec 08) that Finesse have no responsibility for the trees at Stanborough – its a mad mad world and that’s for sure... I’m sure Tree Officer Clare Lilley will be delighted that these trees are now officially under her charge, despite her very clear instructions to the contrary from her bosses!