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Maria Bennett battles on to save our trees and Formby Parish Council to discuss full independent rep


Councillor Maria Bennett has spent a lot of time on emails and has today, Wednesday 31st January, spoken directly with The Chief Executive, Margaret Carney, who said: "I can confirm that no felling will take place this week. This is to enable me to have further conversations on the way forward to ensure that the health and safety risk is mitigated whilst responding to the concerns of residents."

There will be more news as we get it, but it is undestood that Formby Parish Council has put the issue of the trees on their Agenda for next weeks full Council Meeting on Tuesday and will discuss funding a full and independent report on the Chapel Lane trees.

This is an email that Maria Bennett received from the trees department at Sefton Council on Monday 29th January:-

Sefton Council:

I will endeavour to answer the queries you’ve raised below:

· Tree pits for the seven new trees have begun to be created today – new trees will be planted as soon as possible. We won’t unfortunately be able to plant trees in exactly the same position as those removed as there will be too much root mass under the ground at these locations.

· The council have now agreed to a phased removal approach, three trees will be removed this week with the remaining two being monitored over the summer months. The three trees which will be removed this week are the three which pose the most imminent Health and Safety risk.

· Written report – the council manage the tree stock by use of an electronic data base which stores various information about our highway tree stock, we don’t produce an arboricultural report for every removal we have planned. Arboricultural reports are usually documents produced when specific sites are being surveyed for example with planning applications or tree preservation applications. Apologies if this wasn’t communicated clearly and I’m not aware of the Formby Bubble approaching the Tree Team for any information.

· Information sharing – as you are aware we have produced press releases, put information on the Sefton Web site and hand delivered posters and spoken to business owners and residents (if they were present when we were on site). It is unfortunate to hear that people are not happy with the approach we have taken to getting information out to the residents of Formby. As you are aware Formby Parish Council have also released press realises over that previous months which have made mention of the tree removals, the first being last March (2017) which mentioned the Horse Chestnuts would be removed and money had been set aside for replacements.

· The trees are being removed for Health and Safety reasons rather than financial concerns – I do appreciate this was something that was mentioned to me also this morning.

The tree works will continue tomorrow as per the various discussions we had on site this morning, as per above the removals will be phased with the three being removed this week. Tree removal notices have been removed from the two trees to be monitored. 

Please note: (This situation has now been updated with the news release at the top of the page)

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Here is a statement from Councillor Maria Bennett regarding a letter that was posted on our Formby Bubble Facebook page:

Dear Formby Bubble:

As you are aware there is clearly an issue surrounding the trees that are to be removed from the village and whilst I don’t normally follow social media, my daughter has sent me an article which is a letter written to the Formby Bubble and posted on the trees. Whilst most of this letter is correct there are some points that are not factually correct. I am responding to this as I feel as a Ward Councillor and Parish Council I would like to set the record straight. I was elected to support the local residents on behalf of Formby Residents Action Group and I have tried at every turn and to do my best. I have many emails to prove my answers and just feel that I should be given the opportunity of putting things right. I am not speaking on behalf of the Parish Council but in my own right as an individual Parish and Ward Councillor.

I have consistently raised my concerns with Sefton and also the parish council with regard to ensuring that residents are kept fully informed about the whole issue, whatever that maybe. I also stated that if any trees had to be removed then this should be a phased process, ie if the 2 trees that were a health and safety issue were removed then we need to ensure that new trees are replanted straight away and that they should not be twigs but a fairly substantial tree. I was informed that they can only plant up to a certain size as otherwise they may not take but I thought it was important to ensure that if we are felling trees for Health and Safety reasons that we plant more trees. I have to say that so many trees have been removed around Formby and not been replaced, that is why as a ward councillor and in Ravenmeols ward we planted 16 trees last year and we are in the process of planting a further 25 trees. They are important for the environment.

Indeed there was an urgent meeting called on Friday 12th January 2018 and which I was the only Ward Councillor who turned up. I spent several hours walking through the village and was only told a few days before that it was now 6 trees that were going to be felled. I again stressed my concerns and the impact on the village of felling all these trees at once. I was even concerned at where the 7 new trees that the parish council were funding were going to be placed. There would have been huge gaps at the top end of the village. Even at this late stage I said that it should be a phased approach ie, if they were to fell the 2 main trees which they believed were causing the health and safety issue and we planted the 7 new trees then at least the residents would see that we were replacing the trees. I could not understand why they would not do this as this was agreed back in January 2017. The ward councillors for Ravenmeols had replaced 4 trees last year on the opposite side of the road. Whilst I appreciate they won’t look the same it is a commitment to renewing trees in our community. I also suggested that if they did remove the 2 trees then we need to replant trees in these pits. I was told that this would not be possible but maybe next year once all the roots had died off and been removed.  

At every stage I have given clear warnings of what would happen if they failed to keep the public informed but I had no control over this. I have also been told consistently that the trees are being removed as they are a health and safety issue in respect of the highway.

I have all the emails to back up what I am saying and to prove how hard I have tried to alleviate the impact this would have on the village and all the warnings I have given and why we could not save the trees. On my walk round the village they pointed out various problems with trees to do with the crowns etc although as I have said I am not a tree expert and would have to rely on their professional opinion.

On Monday 29th January, a Councillor claimed that they had saved the day and that no trees were going to be felled today and that only 3 trees will be removed. I can confirm that at least one tree on the opposite side of the road was removed on Monday, so this was incorrect and after a meeting on Monday night, I have come home to an email which was a follow up to an email I had sent on Monday to both the tree department and the Chief Executive confirming my concerns again and how this situation had been handled. I was also informed that 3 large trees would be removed on Tuesday with the remaining 2 being checked over the summer months. However this still meant that 4 trees would have been felled.

We can all agree that press notices don’t necessarily get read and can be missed but a notice put up on a tree will be spotted straight away and I would have thought these would have gone up a lot sooner not one week before they were to be removed. 

With regard to the letter I have made my comments in red.

When it came to my attention that the parish council chairman announced that the trees were to be felled because they were diseased and distressed, alarm bells rang.

I can completely understand this because I felt the same way back in January 2017 having had discussions regarding the trees in the village. At this time it was 2 trees that needed to be removed due to them being in deline and them posing a health and safety issue on the highway.

Several years ago we were told the trees might be felled because of disease, which was disproved.

I cannot comment on this as I have to say I am not a tree expert but have to rely upon the officers who are.

The parish council have not discussed the condition of these trees in the previous 12 monthly meetings. (Parish council minutes) publicly available. There has been no information in local publications and no public announcements by either Sefton council or the Parish council in the past 12 months until a newspaper report of the 5th December 2017 announcing the felling of the trees.

The parish council has discussed this in their environment group meetings and have had meetings directly with Sefton Council which I have attended as a Ward Councillor and Parish Councillor. There was a press release done in March 2017, mentioning the horse chestnut trees and that funds would be provided by the parish council for replacement trees. I also have many emails that I have sent as a ward councillor over the past 12 months raising my concerns regarding the felling of the trees.

In early August 2017 photographs were taken of the trees showing a loss of leaves and in distress. If the reasons for this are wanted I will write a separate article. This will also explain why horse chestnut tree roots are not the cause of raised floor tiles in a nearby building, why you cannot possibly decide the health of the tree by just looking at it and certainly not by someone who's training is for cutting trees down.This requires a professional arbiculturist who is trained to LOOK AFTER trees.

After the newspaper report on 15th December 2017 I emailed the parish Council clerk requesting information about the trees. 

Correct

I received a reply on the 2nd January 2018 (the day of the next Parish council meeting) referring me to Sefton council tree department for details.

Unfortunately the Parish Clerk is off and the office closed during the Christmas period. The office closed on the 15th December and the first day back for the Parish Clerk was the 2nd January 2018.

The same day I emailed Sefton council I received a reply from the principal tree officer for Sefton council on 11th January 2018. In brief the trees were in decline and showing dead wood. No mention of disease and nearly a month to get an answer. 

Correct. The words used to me by the council were “decline” and that nothing could be done about them and there were a health and safety issue on the highway.  

On the 22nd January 2018 my first notice was placed on the trees. Scanning articles on the local websites, Nina Killen, under the banner of MP Bill Esterson stated the trees were diseased.

Other sites repeated this claim.

Correct but the terms that I have always been told is in decline.

On Friday 26th January 2018 l placed a new notice on the trees. At this time Sefton councillor Simon Jamieson and Sefton and Parish councillor Denise Dutton arrived with others. Councillor Jamieson went to read my notice whilst concillor Dutton talked to a small group of passersby including myself. l saw that councillor Jamieson had removed my notice, I asked why and he stated "this is not true". 

"Which part is not true?" I asked and he replied "We have consulted with shops and businesses." I took back my notices.

I cannot comment on what the other councillors have done as I was not there but it is correct that the shops/businesses were not consulted until they received a poster to put up in their windows from Sefton Council which I believe was on the 15th January. This was followed on the 22nd of January with the tree notices being put on the trees. I have always stressed how important it is to ensure that the public are kept informed and that it was a disaster waiting to happen.  

Councillor Dutton then told the group that the trees were diseased. I told her that this was incorrect and I had the email to prove it. An amicable discussion followed and I left.

The following day I visited a large number of shops. There was no consultation with the shop keepers. They were handed a letter on Monday morning a week before the felling with details of the works and road closures.That was all.

Correct

Of course there was no consultation with Formby residents. 

Correct

The issue of the trees health is questionable. 

What is not is the way Sefton council, the Parish council and councillors have behaved.

The information regarding these trees was available in August. 

The information regarding the trees and the proposals were available in January 2017 but we were consistently told that this had to be carefully managed.

It took four months before this news was released by the parish council chairman and wrongly diagnosed and 12 months in committee without discussion.

A complete failure by 14 parish councillors to

question or scrutinise an action which would destroy the heart of Formby village .

Councillors making misleading statements and

an apparent news blackout until just before Christmas.

I have consistently scutinised this issue over the trees over the past year and warned about not keeping the public informed.

The process was pushed through over a very short time over Christmas; Or, was it a 'fait accompli' designed months before to deny any challenges.

This whole process has been shrouded in secrecy and reflects badly on all concerned.

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