Thousands of tree problems reported each year to council

Trees felled in the Greenwell Lane car park earlier this year sparked criticism.
Trees felled in the Greenwell Lane car park earlier this year sparked criticism.

Northumberland County Council does not have the resources to tackle all of the thousands of tree complaints it receives each year, a meeting heard.

Nonetheless, councillors on the communities and place committee were told that the authority’s tree and woodland strategy, which was introduced in 2010 and updated in 2015, is ‘by and large successful’.

This is because a priority system is used for the more than 2,500 requests and complaints received each year, which means that the target for dealing with urgent safety problems (priority one) within seven days is consistently met.

For essential but not urgent cases (priority two), the aim is to resolve them within 12 months and this target is also consistently achieved, but that still leaves the non-essential requests – trees which residents complain are impacting on their private property or blocking light, TV reception, etc.

Mike Jeffrey, the council’s countryside and green spaces manager, said that there are 3,500 to 4,000 of these cases outstanding and ‘the reality is that some won’t be looked at until they become priority one or two’.

However, residents or businesses can commission the work to be carried out themselves, at their expense, subject to agreement from the council.

Additional pressure has been put on the council’s trees team in the past couple of years through the streetlight replacement programme taking place across the county, with additional requests sparked by new or replacement poles in different locations.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, the committee’s vice-chairman, said that additional funding was put in about four years ago to reduce the backlog ‘which are desirable but not essential’, from around the 20,000 mark down to about 5,000.

“The base budget will not cover the desirable items,” he added, pointing out that if more money isn’t spent then the backlog ‘will creep back up again’.

The chairman, Coun Jeff Reid, said: “I understand totally that it’s about resources and that for everyone that loves a tree, there’s someone that hates it, but I do think there’s a problem and I don’t know how we are going to resolve it.”

This report to the committee was in advance of a full review of the tree and woodland strategy prior to its expiry in 2020. Coun Reid said: “I would like to think we could have a proper input into the next policy.”

Caption: Trees felled in a council car park near Alnwick Castle earlier this year sparked criticism.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service