I fully support Cllr Louise Lotz's demand for a proper and well executed consultation on the replanting scheme at Stanborough Lakes. We potentially have something closer to that with the Task and Finish group which has been set up for the north car park management, but I reserve judgement until we see whether the decisions arising from that are truly democratic, or are once again just lip service to give the illusion of a functioning democratic process. I think it is also worthwhile considering what has happened thus far regarding the plight of these trees. WHBC is keen to harness the media to get its message across. In the name of balance I would also like to lay out the sequence of events and shortcomings that myself and others I’ve spoken to have witnessed. It’s a sorry story but highlighting it through your pages, may help avoid a similar disaster in the future.
The story from a resident’s point of view:
WHBC are first advised in a consultant’s report of the poor state of the trees at Stanborough Park 2006, and then do nothing for two years.
In the interim they have another report done to ensure that the first one was correct, but do not release it.
They then make the decision to fell behind closed doors, and call a “consultative meeting” to involve people who might be concerned. They tell them at the outset that actually it is not a consultation but simply a meeting to inform them that the decision has already been taken.
Then, when faced with an outcry from angry residents, they commission a third report (more expense) and offer public consultation, but with no proper documented process. During that period they allow a key Councillor to write to your paper stating what the decision in the south car park will be anyway.
When the matter goes to Cabinet, they offer incomplete and “spun” answers to residents who are asking relevant questions about the decision which is due to be taken.
The council report to the cabinet which is supposed to include the public responses to the consultation is completed and released a full 10 days BEFORE the consultation period has expired, thereby indicating that the officers themselves do not appear to have any regard for comments made by residents, and also rendering the consultation a waste of everyone’s time.
When faced with a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about this, the council avoid responding to the LGO until after the trees have been felled.
Then, when the trees have been felled, they announce on local radio that ALL of them were rotten to the core – to quote Councillor Berry on BBC Radio.
They then ensure that all the tree stumps in the car park are reduced to sawdust so speedily that no one will ever know how many or which trees were rotten. Nobody is invited along to view them.
The whole thing is presented as a Health and Safety issue, of course. Dangerous trees should be felled, no argument about that, but the detailed consultant’s report did not say they were ALL dangerous.
Smoke and mirrors are also deployed to confuse matters by referring to Finesse Leisure when convenient, but seemingly no lease appears to have been signed to cover the upkeep of the trees.
You have to wonder if it is the trees that are rotten, or if it is simply that those within the local authority machinery have no idea how to have constructive and participatory dialogue with residents. Being able to ask a question to the cabinet, and receive a scripted answer to it does not constitute a dialogue. All that can be put at the door of this Council but actually there is another deeper underlying failure. At some time in the past, someone in the Council made a decision NOT to pollard the trees as they were intended to be. This must have been well over twenty years ago and since then no one appears to have given the matter any thought whatsoever until some two years ago