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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 02/12/2003
Dealing with Dangerous Trees



Summary & Purpose
This report provides an update of the current position regarding the project to survey of the Council’s tree stock and requests permission to create an established post of Arboricultural Officer.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
Positive
N/A
Positive
Positive
N/A
Positive
Positive



There are a range of positive environmental, social and economic benefits associated with this report. Dealing with dangerous trees has positive environmental and social benefits. Removal of dead, dying, diseased and dangerous trees aids natural regeneration and biodiversity. Local employment is created and there are secondary markets for some of the timber.

E-Government implications:

A database of the tree survey will be held electronically.

Resource and legal implications:

There will be a resource implication for the manpower revenue budget relating to the ongoing costs of employing an arboricultural officer.

An increase of 10,000 is being sought to the General Fund Capital Programme in this financial year to undertake the remedial work required following the ongoing stock survey. Future capital costs associated with ongoing remedial work will form part of the Council’s capital budget setting process and will be based on estimated requirements.


Background

1. The Council has a clear policy of dealing with dangerous trees. The three steps in implementing this policy are:-

a systematic inspection of the tree stock on a regular basis

such inspection carried out by a professionally qualified arboriculturalist

remediation of any observed or diagnosed dangerous or potentially dangerous conditions

2. The policy arose as a result of a report considered by the Executive on 15th January 2002, whilst a further report with additional information on 5th February 2002 set out the consequences of failure to endorse and implement a tree survey and remediation programme. On the one hand the consequences could be as serious as the loss of life or injury to members of the public or staff or anyone visiting our open countryside, recreational open spaces or housing land. On the other hand, there have been court judgements, in cases of dangerous trees causing damage or loss of life, which comprised not only substantial damages but “punitive” fines, - in one case more than 1,000,000. The Council agreed to embrace the proposed new policy which, when implemented, would clearly demonstrate a reasonable discharge of duties.

3. The Council’s legal position in relation to liability if it does not carry out a survey is expressed in (Exempt) Annexe 1 to this report.

Implementation

4. The Council agreed to recruit a professionally qualified arboriculturalist for three years in the first instance. The cost of the appointment was to be covered from the capital programme which also allowed for remediation work identified as necessary arising from the inspections carried out by the arboriculturalist. The capital budgets were apportioned between the General Fund (GF) and the Housing Revenue Account, (HRA), having regard to the relative sizes of the respective land holdings. The commitment approved was for 153,600 (GF) and 38,400 (HRA) over a three year period.

Current Position

5. Experience over the first 18 months of the three year programme has revealed three significant issues of direct consequence to the Council in terms of discharging its duties and the risk attached to continuing with the current policy.

6. The three issues are as follows:-

• The scale of the problem is significantly greater than could have been envisaged. The Council owns and manages some 1,000 acres of recreational open space, some 4,000 acres of countryside and the gardens and grounds associated with 4,581 housing owned properties. It has not been possible to complete anywhere near half the survey and remediation in the time spent so far. The other side of this difficulty is that Waverley enjoys an equable climate and some fertile soils - a combination which allows trees to luxuriate. Also, the first eighteen months identified a number of potential calamities ‘waiting to happen’, and early intervention may well have saved a series of later misfortunes.

• The risk of not keeping control of our tree stock has attained an increased level of importance. A recent fatality in a Surrey school playground highlights the potential level of risk and attendant difficulties after such a catastrophe. Waverley also has huge areas of wooded land to which the public has unrestricted access, - we would not want it any other way, but with the ownership and management responsibilities comes a series of duties and responsibilities. From the evidence gained in the last 1 years, your officers now conclude that inspection, and consequent work, is not a one off, three year quick-fix, but rather a full-time continuing responsibility.

• The resignation of the current arboriculturist caused your officers to pause before attempting to re-recruit for the remaining portion of time. It was difficult to recruit a suitably qualified officer in the first place with a three year fixed term contract. To attempt to recruit again for what amounts to less than eighteen months will be costly and may prove impossible. Also your officers do not consider that the work in the original project can be completed in eighteen months. It has been recognised in undertaking the work so far that this is a major responsibility and that there is continuing liability needing to be discharged on an on-going basis. Similarly, the capital budgets for the remediation work have proved inadequate for the initial volume of work identified and, whereas they may be appropriate in the longer term, they are not sufficient in this first phase of the survey.

The Revised Proposal

7. In order to safeguard the public, maintain the Council’s property and secure the position of the Council and its officers in not being susceptible to complaint, challenge or action in respect of the management of the Council’s tree stock, three changes to the policy are considered necessary by the Council’s Chief Officers Group.


8. First, the post of Arboricultural Officer needs to become an established post. This will enable the Council to discharge this function on an on-going basis, allowing for continuous inspection of the tree stock, early identification of any dangers or potential dangers associated with the stock, rapid commissioning of any necessary works and the professional monitoring of the carrying out of the works required.

9. Second, the budget associated with the appointment of the Arboricultural Officer needs to be regularised as part of the officer manpower budget and contained in the base revenue budgets.

10. Third, the capital budgets associated with the remediation works needs to be increased in line with estimated requirements that are now based on the past 18 months experience, with future amounts subject to periodic review to ensure that necessary works are being undertaken within a reasonable period of time.

Conclusion

11. Your officers conclude that there is no choice but to discharge our responsibilities in relation to our tree stock, such responsibilities being outlined in this report and defined in recent judicial decisions. In order to do this, it is necessary to make the post of Arboricultural Officer an established post within the officer manpower revenue budget and to provide the necessary capital budget, to enable the identified remediation works to occur within a reasonable period of time.

Recommendation

It is therefore recommended that:

1. the post of Arboricultural Officer be an established post in the Environment and Leisure Department;

2. a provision of 31,000 be included in the draft officer manpower revenue budget for 2004/05, to be allocated 80% to the General Fund and 20% to the Housing Revenue Account;

3. the capital budget for remediation works of 80,000 be included in the General Fund Capital Programme and 20,000 in the Housing Revenue Account in ensuing years, the level of this budget to be subject to ongoing annual review; and

4. the 2003/4 Capital Programme be increased by 10,000 within the General Fund to enable urgent remedial work to be carried out during the remainder of the year.


Background Papers (DoE&L)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.


CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Peter Maudsley Telephone: 01483 523398
E-mail: pmaudsley@waverley.gov.uk