At the Members’ Forum in a Full Council meeting this week, Green councillor Carla Denyer asked the Mayor about cuts to Bristol’s street trees budget.
Councillor Denyer submitted joint questions with Green Councillor Clive Stevens  which noted several issues raised by the Bristol TreeForum:
– The Council’s Highways Department did not consult the Council’s arboricultural officers, the TreeForum or any other relevant experts about street trees before making their decision to reduce the budget by 78%, which would effectively mean ceasing most tree maintenance.
– The Highways department are justifying cuts by saying that they will maintain the minimum statutory service, regularly checking trees every few years, however, this is not cost-efficient as regular pollarding would be cheaper (a point on which horticultural experts agree ).
– There has been no costed business case or risk assessment for the budget cuts.
The last point may be particularly significant as cuts to tree maintenance could potentially result in public damages, for example caused by trees falling on property, subsidence or people tripping over exposed roots, which the council could then be liable for.
Councillor Denyer also asked the Mayor whether the Council’s insurer (Zurich) was consulted over the decision to cut tree maintenance, and whether the insurance would remain valid to cover claims following the budget reductions. The Mayor was unable to answer the question, and promised a response in writing (at the time of writing this has not been received).
Speaking after the Full Council, Councillor Denyer said “I look forward to the Mayor’s response and hope it will shed some light on the issue of insurance. But I’m really worried that nobody in the Highways Department thought to run their proposals past any relevant experts before presenting them to Councillors. Quite aside from the huge value that street trees give to the city in terms of air quality, providing shade and improving wellbeing for residents, there is a simple financial issue here. Any savings made from reducing the maintenance budget could easily be wiped out by a couple of claims against the Council for injuries or damage to private property.”
“The Mayor has assured me that there will be a consultation before these proposals are decided on – that is a small comfort at least. However, given that most of the Council’s recent consultations have been about how to cut services, not whether to cut them, we do not intend to let up on this until we have received proper answers.”