Trees: War and Peace

It's not only fusty old local societies that need volunteers you know. Sometimes, funky, zeitgeisty, cutting-edge, virtual, 2.0 societies can do with a hand too. So it's with great pleasure that Brockley Central can formally welcome Brockley Kate in to its editorial circle of trust. This means that she now has the power to delete any one of us, at any time. We hope she uses it well.

Kate's Brockley Central career kicks-off with this report on yesterday's early morning summit with council officers regarding a tree - and trees more generally. It's an epic:

Lewisham Council is planning to cut down a tree in the Lewisham College car park on the corner of Lewisham Road and Tressillian Road because it is interfering with a local CCTV network.

After BC users expressed concern, council tree and CCTV officers offered to meet with us and local councillor Dean Walton to explain the situation in more detail.

The meeting took place yesterday. morning at 7.30am and was attended by Brockley Nick, Brockley Jon, me, BC reader Vikki, Cllr Dean Walton, Lewisham Council tree officers Sean MacBride and Rick Farr, and. Lewisham Council CCTV manager Anne Sharp.

They did a very good job of explaining the situation and many thanks to them for attending.

The basic facts are these:

- The tree affected is a large mature lime tree to the right of the car park entrance, which is at the top of Tressillian Road;

- There is a local CCTV circuit which encompasses three cameras: a. camera on the edge of the car park, pointing onto Lewisham Way; a camera further up Lewisham Way on the corner with Breakspears Road; and a camera directly outside St. Johns stain station;

- The tree is interfering with the CCTV circuit (Anne has promised to send me a technical report from the. council’s CCTV consultants explaining exactly how this happens, and I’ll summarise this for BC readers if you’d like me to);

- It would take at least £10,000 to re-configure the camera circuit and this cost would have to come out of the CCTV manager’s budget;

- The council’s tree officers found when they inspected the tree that it is already diseased: it is ‘multi-stemmed’ (has more than one main. trunk stem) with ‘included bark’ and it’s structurally unstable. These problems can be diagnosed and. solved through pruning in a tree’s early years, but this didn’t happen in this case (the tree is about 20. years old). Because of these problems the tree will need to be cut down at some future point regardless of the CCTV problem. The tree officers are not able to predict whether this might happen in 6 months or several years’ time.

Therefore the council has won planning permission to cut the tree down.

Anne Clark said: ‘I’ve been CCTV manager for three years and this is the first tree we’ve had to fell.’

The tree officers have promised to plant three trees on Tressillian Road to compensate for this one, one of which will be funded by the CCTV manager as a direct replacement. The other two are part of the Localities Fund allocation, an issue we’ve covered in previous posts.

The replacement tree won’t be planted on the site of the old tree because it could cause similar problems, and also the Lewisham College site is up for sale in 2012, including the car park, which along with its trees could be re-developed by the new owners. Therefore replacing the tree in the same position isn’t suitable in the long term.

Instead, the trees will be located:

- Outside 30 Tressillian Road, where there is a tarmac’d space where there used to be a tree;

- And at either side of the junction between Tressillian Road and Harefield Road, where there are two tarmac’d spaces where there used to be trees.

My view is that this sounds like an acceptable resolution to a situation in which there is no easy answer.

During the course of the meeting we heard some interesting background from the tree officers which I think sheds new light on this and other tree-related planning applications. Basically, Sean MacBride and Rick Farr have only been working for Lewisham Council for 18 months to 2 years; since they started they’ve been tackling a backlog of tree maintenance issues. This includes diseased and structurally unstable trees. Perhaps it’s therefore unsurprising that we’re seeing an increasing number of planning applications relating to trees as they sort out this situation.

The tree officers want to reach a point at which they can focus on pruning and maintenance rather than removal, but there’s some work to be done before they get there. They are currently surveying all the trees in the borough and working out what action to take with those that need attention.

They have emphasised to us that they would really like to have a clear policy of one-for-one replacement, but the cost of new trees comes out of their budget, which is currently primarily taken up with dealing with the backlog of ‘problem’ trees. Affordability, rather than intention, is a real barrier for them.

I was really impressed by the council officers’ enthusiasm for the conservation area and their efforts to explain the situation to a bunch of random spods off the interweb. I was very interested to hear about the tree officers’ wider role in keeping Brockley green and I’d like to thank them, Anna Clark and Dean Walton very much for their time and helpfulness.

BC poster Vikki also attended the meeting; here are her comments, which give more detail about the wider issues discussed:

On the cutting down of this tree - my general thoughts are that it’s understandable why it's happened and, as trees go, it's not a disaster, £10,000 is a lot of money and we shouldn't expend anymore energy working on this particular tree.

As a user of St Johns station, and one who uses the station late at night and quite often on her own, then I think the CCTV camera at the station is an important one. I do have concerns about endless CCTV cameras but that one I like.

I don't fully understand why this particular tree is a problem - I do get the basics but it generally seems similar in size to plenty of other trees so it would be good to see the stuff from the consultant as promised by the CCTV lady.

And whilst the tree will have got bigger/more spread out because of the multi-trunk issue, more joined-up working between council officers might have given more thought to trees when CCTV cameras were sited - the CCTV cameras have presumably been here for only a few years rather than 10-15 years so could these problems not have been foreseen in a tree-y area? This might be the first tree to be felled but will others follow? Will trees be considered when future CCTV cameras are put up?

However the most important thing that came out of the meeting (for me) is that trees in Brockley aren't systematically replaced when old/problematic ones are felled. This isn't strictly because there isn't enough budget but more because the council is playing catch up. One tree bod has been working at the council for two years and the other for 18 months. When they arrived it seems there wasn't great knowledge of where trees are and what state they are in. They are now undertaking the massive task of surveying all trees in the borough and part of this includes getting rid of the 'bad' trees. This may be why there is a spate of tree-felling at the moment. This means that in storms last year about 150 trees fell down in Lewisham and this year it was just about 10. That might reflect storm strength but I think there's something in what they say.

Once this programme of work is completed it seems the council plans to replace trees at the same time that they fell them - this is what I want. This means that replacing the CCTV tree would mean the council would have to find a brand new tree site rather than just a site that previously had a tree that was felled and not replaced. It would mean that we wouldn't spend locality fund money on two trees on old tree sites – again, these would have been automatically replaced.

Finally, whilst I'm okay with this tree going I do think that trees are a vital part of our local environment - I'm not going to be a conservation area bore but they are one of the things that really add to the nature of the Brockley conservation area. If we are to stop future trees being felled then we need to stop them at planning permission stage. It's not a massive problem that only the Brockley Society was informed and it's not their job to tell everyone else - we just need to be more active in the society! However I don't see why some consultation of immediate residents can't be done too, especially for council-owned street trees.