Council rapped over highway tree inspection following driver's death

A coroner has called for Bracknell Forest Council to better train and guide its highways inspectors on identification of tree hazards in a report into a motorist's death.

Image: Arboricultural Association
Image: Arboricultural Association

Michael Warren was killed in October 2012 after a branch from a mature oak tree by the A332 near Ascot Racecourse fell onto his car.

Following an inquest into the death, the Senior Coroner for Berkshire this week took the unusual step of issuing a Prevention of Future Deaths Report in a bid to prevent similar mistakes in future.

It emerged that two Bracknell Forest Council highways inspectors had driven past the tree just two days before the branch failed, but noted nothing of concern.

The inquest found that they had not completed any tree hazard-related training for seven years, and were expected to identify a wide range of potential hazards, from potholes, poor or obscured signage to tree hazards, whilst driving at speeds described as "rarely less than 30 miles per hour".

An Arboricultural Association representative said: "This tragic accident exposes the risks of taking short cuts when inspecting trees, and the need for good basic and refresher training.

"Our concern is that the failings of Bracknell Forest Council may just be the tip of the iceberg, with other highway authorities potentially cost-cutting on essential tree inspection and risk assessment services."

Many local authorities are reducing tree officer positions and passing such work on to staff who lack the required skills and expertise, he added.

Responding to the coroner's highlighting of "a potential need for clear direction from a suitably qualified source to assist local authorities in this role", he pointed out that the Arboricultural Association is working with other professional bodies to develop a standard protocol for roadside tree inspections.


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