Council pledge to consult over lime trees

There is no secret plan, says Cllr John Delaney

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Ealing Council has pledged to consult widely with residents over the future of the borough's 4,500 Lime trees.

Opponents of the council claim there are 'secret' plans to cut down the trees without first seeking the views of residents.

However, the claim is untrue, say the council, and they are making it clear that no Lime trees will be removed without proper consultation.

Each year the council spends around £400,000 maintaining the trees, repairing damage the trees have caused to highways, as well as paying out on compensation claims to residents whose properties have been damaged by the trees' roots.

The council also receives several hundred complaints each year from angry residents who say pavements outside their homes are damaged by the trees, making them unsafe, plus sap from the trees is damaging their cars and making pavements slippery. Some of the trees' roots are also so strong they damage the borough's roads.

At present a detailed business case is being drawn up by the council's tree and finance experts to ensure council taxpayers' money is spent correctly when determining the long term future of the trees. This will be finished in around two weeks time.

If the business case is not proven then no action will be taken and no trees will be removed.   The council would however continue to carry out routine inspections and maintenance work on these trees.

If the business case is proven, a report will then be presented to a future Cabinet meeting - the council's decision making body - with a recommendation to either proceed or not. The council's scrutiny committee will also ensure the process is carried out properly.

If the decision is to proceed, the report will go to the council's seven area committees and full consultation with residents and organisations, such as the National Urban Forestry Unit, Arboricultural Advisory Information Service and Trees for London, will begin.

Depending on the outcome of this consultation, it could mean no trees or only those trees which are causing damage are removed.

Cllr John Delaney, Cabinet member for streets and environment, said: "There is no secret plan to remove the trees and no decision has been made. Anyone who says differently is talking nonsense. However we do have to look at the long term future of the Lime trees and the effect some of them are having on our residents.

"We also have to look at the best way of spending our taxpayers' money and this is why we have to look at the financial aspects. What is clear is that no Lime trees will be removed without full consultation with residents."

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm said, "After much talk we still do not know what form of consultation the council will take. Ealing Council has a poor record on consulting. The Lib Dems would want to see a special group formed made up off council officers, ward councillors, tree experts and interested parties to discuss the details, before a consultation occurs. Then full consultation must occur on this important issue.

For example the council talks about consulting but they do not say whether the consultation is binding? And if so, to one geographic area or all of Ealing?

Our trees are an important part of our streetscape so getting rid of them seems a strange idea to save a small amount of money. Also I was on a group that dealt with investigating the Arboricultural section of the council and it was show that its contractors were not doing its job.

If the lime trees were cut down what hope would there be that these so called replacement trees would be maintained properly? If they are to cut down 4500 lime trees why did they not suggest cutting down the London Plane trees which also cause some damage to properties? It sounds to me as if the Labour council's plans are not well thought through and not consistent."

An alternative view comes from Steve Pound, MP:

" As an MP who represents, amongst other areas, the Lime Trees Estate I should be leaping to the barricades to defend our limes to the last drop of my blood but I'm afraid that I won't be.

Every constituent who has contacted me on the subject in the past eight years has been complaining bitterly about what they usually call �slime trees� and demanding their removal.
Ealing's limes were, typically, planted about one hundred years ago and are approaching the end of their natural life. If we were planning Ealing from scratch we might well have a tram system but we would certainly not have chosen to plant trees that hurl out shoots from their bases and block the pathway for people pushing buggies and for wheelchair users.

We wouldn't have chosen a species that costs so much to maintain while dripping sap on passers by and parked cars.  We definitely wouldn't have chosen trees that root laterally and damage foundations to the extent that the council's insurers are asking some very worrying questions.

Having said that there is no doubt that some people love their limes and should be allowed to keep them in the streets where they are wanted...

...a great many of my constituents in Northolt, Greenford and Perivale would be delighted to see the back of them if they could be assured that replacements would be planted. Others want to see their trees left alone. That does not seem an impossible task and I ask Ealing Council to say precisely where they are in respect of the proposal, what the consultation will be and what procedure will be followed."

April 18th, 2005