Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Trees for all!

Recent reports that street trees could fall victim to cuts were brought a step closer to home when I attended Islington Council's Overview Committee to listen to a debate about the new Tree Policy.

The new administration is determined to tear up the work done by the previous administration (their political opponents) and by local residents, and has reduced the trees policy to just 2 pages.

Cllr Paul Smith is the new (Labour party) executive member for the environment. His speech to the committee on trees was revealing. Cllr Smith believes that while trees 'may be a big issue in the more fortunate parts of the Borough', they are not a big issue elsewhere - for example, on council estates.

But is this right? Surely, people living in areas of greater social deprivation are the ones who need trees the most - and who suffer most when their physical environment is degraded. People living in cramped accommodation, without gardens, rely on access to parks and other green spaces. And the majority of residents in the Borough who don't have cars can't easily drive further afield to enjoy the benefits for their health, wellbeing, and peace of mind offered by our forests. Most of all, isn't it patronising to assume that people only worry about trees if they are middle class?

Cllr Smith told us last night that in these straitened financial times we couldn't afford to be spending 'lots of money on paper'. Well, we'd certainly agree that lengthy documents are a waste of paper (and trees) - and the previous policy (at 69 pages) was rather wordy - but I'm not sure that cuts in the Council budget should mean any lesser degree of protection for our trees (especially now that we can ill afford to replace them).

Today, the Council has published its budget proposals for the coming year. There's a lot of detail there which we're only just beginning to analyse, but they've already announced that tree officers will be lost.

And on top of that a whopping 3/4 of a million pounds will be wiped off the sustainability budget. Apparently, the Council plans to "realign sustainability priorities to energy efficiency and resident focus". It also plans to use the Ecology Centre to provide "services in line with [the] fairness agenda". If I find out what that means, I'll let you know!

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