I recently met with staff from Haringey Council’s Tree Department. The Department is very small and under-resourced, both in terms of people and financial resources. In my view this reflects the relatively low priority given to trees, despite fine words in the Council’s strategies and policies. The walk falls well short of the talk.
The Tree Department faces many challenges. A key challenge arises from subsidence caused by street trees which leaves the Council with a difficult choice. If they don’t fell a “guilty” tree they face the cost of repairs and underpinning, but if they fell the trees, they face protests from angry residents. In Stanhope Road in Stroud Green, protesters are occupying a tree in the expectation that the Council will pick up costs of nearly £500,000. Across the Borough, there are over 100 such claims with the total exposure mounting to many millions of pounds. The Council is reluctant to challenge dubious claims through the courts, regarding this as costly and high risk. Instead, it tries to mitigate damage caused by trees through its programme of regular pollarding. In some areas pollarding now takes place on an annual basis.
A second challenge is to increase the number of street trees in the Borough, not only through the replacement of those felled because of disease, safety or insurance claims, but also through the planting of additional trees. In recent years the Council has had insufficient resources to even meet its less than ambitious annual tree planting programme. As well as funding, planting a new street tree is non-trivial. The site has to be surveyed for underground utilities, the right tree has to be bought and someone has to plant it and then water it. Even though the Council has tried to resolve the financial situation encouraging donations from charities and residents through “Haringey Trees For Streets”, there are insufficient tree officers to meet demand.
A third challenge is to prevent felling on trees on private land which can only be effectively done if a tree has or merits a TPO (Tree Preservation Order). The Council has made it increasingly difficult to obtain TPOs compared to previous times. I am concerned that they take an over restrictive approach, focusing on the extent to which a tree provide amenity to a large number of people and the extent to which there is an immediate threat.
A final challenge is the management of woodlands in Council land, including, in our area, Coldfall Woods, Parkland Walk and Queens Wood. For many years, if not decades, the management of these areas has been neglected and a whole range of problems allowed to accumulate including subsidence damage to homes adjacent to the woods, the deterioration of bridges along Parkland Walk and drainage problems in Queens Wood. The Council needs to intervene to deal with these issues, but every time it is met by howls of indignation from local residents, petitions and protests. Sometimes the Council has been poor in communicating its plans and intent, but sometimes they are faced with protest groups who prefer no interventions.