9 July 2013…..The dramatic early spring tree-squat of the 7-Dials Wheatley Elm by Green Party followers (including Tom Druitt, owner of The Big Lemon Bus and partner of Goldsmid Cllr Alex Phillips) coupled with the angry campaign from local residents forced an amazing change of plans from Brighton & Hove’s Green Administration. And very gracious they were too at Full Council when the rethink was announced. Far too often politicians admit nothing and, damagingly, just tough out bad/negligent/misguided decisions. So, a big thank you on this occasion is deserved.
No photos were published during the protests to show how the space between the tree and front garden railings worked in practice. The officers had claimed there was a problem for disabled people and those pushing baby buggies. These photos below illustrate clearly that there is no real problem! Indeed, during the two hours of the campaign closing event on 29th June, a surprising number of people in all sizes of mobility scooter belted through that pavement gap without hesitation or use of brakes. Loads! At serious speed too it must be said.
Save Our Tree did an exemplary job of campaigning to retain this tree. There are so few at 7-Dials! The proposed saplings are still needed but sapling plantings are no replacement for ANY mature tree. They cannot provide shade around that corner, habitat and shelter for birds, pollution filtering and oxygen production or the sheer beauty of a healthy, rare and old, mature tree.
Instead of felling the Wheatley Elm, BHCC will build out the pavement beside the tree – not necessary – but the area to be built out is visible in this photo below. Just not needed, really. The Dept for Transport guidelines adhered to quite rigidly by BHCC officers provides an exact pavement measurement that is a few cms short on the inside area of this tree. A judgment increasingly needs to be made between losses and gains and the value of PC ‘guidelines’. A debate. A dialogue. A choice.
Wheatley elms were a favourite Victorian street tree for plantings because of their narrow, vertical growing habit. BHCC does not wish to continue putting them in because of surface root spread and an apparent unwillingness to surface root prune (which was a routine practice in the past for all trees under Hove Borough Council) in order to deal with the problem. But how much is spent instead on biennial tree pruning across the city, hmmm? Wheatley elms require very little if any canopy pruning.
Brighton & Hove City Council’s Green Administration really MUST put a tree policy document in place that goes beyond just individual special value Tree Protection Orders (TPO) and Conservation Area opportunities to look at whether a tree can be felled or not. A Mature Tree Policy that recognises the social, physical, health importance of mature trees in the polluted, stressed urban environment is shamefully overlooked within the Green Party ‘social justice’ agenda. The leafiest areas are the most coveted for a reason and to deprive less decorative and poorer areas of the value that trees add to quality of life is a further disvaluing of the people living there. Urban pollution levels are illegal in Brighton & Hove and every single mature tree, street, park or garden, is an indispensable little soldier fighting it with oxygen production and filtering. Developers are given consent to remove mature trees (even with a TPO) to gain building space and just put in a few saplings as a sop, even though their new buildings will increase air polluting vehicle emissions because of the activity and population increases that will be generated where they build. It’s not a planning consideration and it should be.
Cycling is almost a monocultural item on the Green Party Streets Agenda, with pedestrians (even greener) being ignored. The entire length of Church Road, Western Road, North Street to the Steine, there are only TWO street trees. TWO. One outside Waitrose and one outside H&M. Benches and trees encourage walking (as do public toilets) and provide cooling respite from stifling summer heat. Lack of them deters walking. Who wants to feel like they are walking in a Death Valley desert in a heat wave! Streets are hot places in summer! Even hotter if one is elderly, disabled, pregnant, with small children and only able to move slowly along them.
Here are a few more pictures from the hot sunny afternoon that gave this worthwhile campaign a formal closing ceremony with Tom Druitt climbing the tree one more time to remove the big Thank You banner. Truth Ferret Films were on hand to record the event and interview residents attending. At the time of writing here their video coverage is not yet available.