Council blames "cock-up" rather than conspiracy for street trees felling

A dispute over the felling of a row of street trees in central Bristol has highlighted the issue of whether local authorities need to consult more with communities before taking such steps.

Image: Bristol Tree Forum
Image: Bristol Tree Forum

The felling, on the city's Redland Hill, was brought to light by Bristol Tree Forum (BTF), whose vice-chair Vassili Papastavrou wrote on the community group's website on 8 April: "There was no consultation of any kind with the community. One day the trees were there, the next they were gone. Without any involvement from the Bristol Tree Forum, the local councillor or the local community, we can only guess why the trees were removed."

He added: "At present, Bristol City Council refuses to consult over tree felling decisions, despite requests from the Bristol Tree Forum for a decade. Unilateral decisions such as this show how important the government’s proposal is to require local authorities to properly consult before removing street trees."

Two days later a reply from an unnamed local councillor was published on the same site, stating: "Contractors removed some of those trees along this strip in error. The contractor is planting replacements free of charge."

The post explained that the council's tree officer had selected and marked the specific trees in the row to be removed with a green paint spot.

"Unfortunately other trees, without the green spots and which were scheduled to remain, had previously been marked up with orange paint spots," the councillor's statement explained.

"It was made clear to the contractor’s manager when they met the Council’s tree officer on site which trees were to be removed and which should stay. The contractor’s team leader who subsequently carried out the felling work had not been given the full information from the manager and felled all the trees except the large beech."

The contractors has now planted 13 birch trees to replace those felled in error, which the councillor said "will be much more suited to the narrow planting location and should have potentially less conflict in the future".

Councillor Clive Stevens, a former chair of Bristol Tree Forum, added: "Although conspiracy theories are more fun to read about, sometimes it is due to a good old fashioned cock-up.

"Lessons to be learned on communication with the public, which I think was the main theme of the Tree Forum’s original blog - the need for more and better consultation. That applies to many things the council does."

He added: "If the Government decides to increase the duty to consult on tree works, let's hope they provide some extra money to pay for someone to do it."

The BTF poster added: "We are sad to have lost what was once a significant aspect of one of the approaches to the Downs [the city's main central green space], but are pleased to see the whole sorry saga resolved."


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