To select appropriate items from the Cabinet agenda for pre-decision scrutiny (reports enclosed for Scrutiny Members)
The Committee scrutinised the following Cabinet Board items:
Arboricultural Management Plan
An update on the Council’s Arboricultural Management Plan was presented to the Committee.
Members were informed that the management plan had been reviewed and updated accordingly; one of the main changes highlighted was that it now included information on Ash Die Back.
A discussion took place in relation to the details of the tree inspections, in particular the interference with overhead cables and the interference with satellite/TV reception. Detailed in the circulated report it stated that there was a legal responsibility (of the relevant utility companies) to maintain clearance around overhead cables in order to provide an uninterrupted service to their customers; Members asked if a particular street or area was to have issues due to interference with satellite/TV reception, would the satellite companies have the option to cut back on those trees if they so wished. Officers confirmed that this wouldn’t be the case, as they did not have the same statutory powers; the statutory powers were put in place for interference with overhead cables in order to protect the structure of the cables.
Following on from the discussion, it was queried if anything could be done if trees were causing an interference with internet or satellite signal to a street, as more people were working from home and relied on these connections. Officers confirmed in these types of circumstances where an area was affected, they would need to work with service providers to identify how they could deliver services to residents e.g. by cable; taking into consideration the current policy, the Council could not cut down trees in order to improve satellite signal as it was under a lot of statutory obligations to protect trees and biodiversity. It was added that there were occasions when residents had concerns around light, leaves, satellite connections and the safety of the trees; the detail of the guidance in the report had to reflect the mentioned obligations to protect trees.
In relation to root systems, it was mentioned that in certain areas the roots of the trees had caused the pavements to lift, some of which obstructed the pathways and meant that residents weren’t able to use them. Officers were asked for information on how this type of issue could be resolved; when Officers received reports of these incidents, someone will be tasked to inspect the area, and if necessary the tarmac would be cut out and a process called ‘root pruning’ would be carried out, before then relaying the tarmac. It was noted that this process wasn’t always possible but was what Officers aimed to do as it retained the tree and retained the highway in a workable condition.
Members explained that they had received complaints over time in relation to the interferences of trees which included those not on Council owned land; Members asked Officers to consider who would be responsible for dealing with the reported issues in relation to trees not on Council owned land, whether it be the Council or providers/partner agencies, as this was important moving forward.
The Committee was informed that the Streetcare Team was taking taken on an extra member of staff, as part of increasing the tree inspection work that was being carried out associated with the Ash Die Back; the Tree Officer will also have a broader remit to look at all other areas around trees, therefore increasing capacity in that regard.
Officers were asked if issues were looked at on an individual basis as there could potentially be special circumstances involved, for example, trees blocking views out of windows causing mental wellbeing issues for individuals. Throughout the circulated report, it stated that the information contained within the management plan was guidance; therefore the way in which one case was resolved could differ from another case, depending on the details of the case.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposal to be considered by the Cabinet Board.