Council reported to ombudsman

Hackney council has been reported to the Local Government Ombudsman for alleged  failures in its management of publicly owned trees in the borough.
Russell Miller, of the Tree Musketeers, the leading volunteer arboriculture group, sent a long and detailed list of complaints about what he termed the council’s “anti-tree policy”.
He said: “It is a very grim time for trees in Hackney.
“For years we have fought to try to educate officers and councillors about the damage being done to trees.
“Unfortunately the truth is they do not care. They have no interest in trees.  Only last week a plane tree awaiting a tree protection order for more than four years was felled in Stamford Hill in the north of the borough.”
Loving Dalston has previously reported on staff cuts in the parks department. Miller, a trained arboriculturist, adds: “LBH is to cut all its five tree staff in parks, to be replaced by one unknown officer.

Rubble on dawn redwood in Clissold Park. Pic: courtesy Tree Musketeers

The loss of the tree gang will undermine not just Hackney’s trees but also the ability of the Tree Musketeers and park user groups to deliver events and park improvements.

“The parks restructure is purposely designed to shed all existing tree staff.”
Miller criticised the council’s attitude to community participation. “Anyone critical of the council is ostracised and deemed hostile.
“Although never stated publicly, privately the [Labour] administration is clear it will not engage with critics.
“The approach is directed from the office of the Mayor [Jules Pipe] and it has created an environment in which it has become unacceptable to point out problems. This entrenched, almost paranoid, defensiveness renders the administration extremely inflexible and deaf to crucial dialogue and complaints that should promote positive change.
“This is a key part of the ongoing failure to manage trees.”
A council official said: “Councillor Jonathan McShane, cabinet member for community services, is always happy to listen to residents and their concerns.
“He has agreed to meet with Mr Miller, who is also a member of Hackney Parks Forum and the biodiversity forum, and often raises tree issues at those meetings.”

Tree Musketeers’ programme, early 2011
* Clissold Park guided tree walks. Meet by the toilets (no sniggering at back of class): Sat 12 Mar 2011 12.15-2pm; Sat 30 Mar 2011 2pm.
* Woodland management in Wick woodland. Meet at the tree nursery or find Tree Musketeers in woodland on south side of Homerton Road. All on a Sun at 10.30am: 27 Feb 2011; 13 Mar 2011; 27 Mar 2011.
Everyone welcome. Wear suitable clothes and stout footwear.
Further details 020 8985 5008; 07758 326530 if you can’t find a Musketeer on the day.

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One thought on “Council reported to ombudsman

  1. I’d like to set the record straight about how Hackney’s trees are managed. They are valuable to our borough and the council takes their welfare seriously.
    About 9,500 street trees are maintained by our contractors. Now we are proposing that they manage the trees in our parks. Many people don’t realise, but contractors are already used for larger jobs that the parks team is unable to undertake. When the cost of using the contractors was compared with the in-house team, it was evident that using them would be less expensive because the contractors can spread the cost of very expensive specialised equipment and staff costs across a larger range of work. They are doing a good job and the council has to find more cost-effective ways to provide the service if it is to continue.
    Hackney’s trees are healthy and well looked after. Through regular inspections we are able to keep a check on the health of the trees. If they are found to be diseased they are treated or when necessary removed. We have made changes to mowing regimes. To reduce potential damage to trees, all newly planted trees will be mulched.
    Our proposed changes will ensure that the arboricultural officer has more time to carry out inspections. The officer will be suitably qualified to ensure that the health of trees in the parks is protected. The officer will also work closely with community groups, giving them one named point of contact, offering support if they want to undertake work in the parks to complement the work we do. We are proud of the work we already done in partnerships with many community groups, including the Tree Musketeers, and look forward to this relationship continuing.
    We would not propose going down this route if there was evidence that the contractors did not have the right skills and experience to look after Hackney’s trees. They clearly do, as we’ve received many letters from residents complimenting the treatment and planting of the borough’s street trees, assuming that all the work was handled by the in-house parks team — which is not the case.
    If it became evident that the borough’s park trees were suffering because of this approach, we would seek to have it reviewed.
    – Jonathan McShane, Hackney council cabinet member for community services

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