Stanborough Lakes poplars - make the right decision

SIR – A copy of a letter sent today to members of Welwyn Hatfield Council s cabinet. Dear Cabinet Members I am writing to alert you to the issue of the Stanborough Poplars that you will be discussing next week and the need for all options to be properly

SIR - A copy of a letter sent today to members of Welwyn Hatfield Council's cabinet.

Dear Cabinet Members

I am writing to alert you to the issue of the Stanborough Poplars that you will be discussing next week and the need for all options to be properly considered and consulted upon. In particular I would urge you to look seriously at the option to pollard trees rather than lose them, a methodology that offers a far less drastic (and possibly far cheaper) solution to the problems faced at Stanborough.

Many of us have submitted letters to Finesse by 29th September as instructed by the council website - my own is reproduced below.

We were not amused therefore to be sent a letter from Finesse telling us that as Andy Carr (Grounds Manager) was away this week, we would not get a reply until after his return. Given that this issue is coming up at cabinet next Tuesday, this was not encouraging.

Our mood was not improved when we downloaded the cabinet papers yesterday and found that the report on this subject had been submitted on 19th September - fully 10 days before the date set for our contributions. I would hope that a supplementary report is being written by officers for the cabinet's consideration, bearing in mind the submissions, which include a critique of the latest consultants report by a qualified arboriculturalist.

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In the meantime, please consider just a few points that are either not considered or not correctly reported in the cabinet paper.

* The Julian Forbes-Laird (JFL) report recognises re-pollarding as a viable solution in the south car park, and indeed Appendix JFL2 includes a recommendation to re-pollard each of rows O through W as the "immediate management recommendation". JFL's rejection of pollarding as an option is purely on aesthetic grounds, and I would respectfully suggest that this aesthetic judgement is best left to those who will actually live with the solution.

* The JFL report does not classify the risk level as "High" as the cabinet paper states (5.1). In the north car park the risk assessment is "slight", in the south car park it is "moderate." (See 3.2 and 3.3 of the JFL report.) This is not to downplay the seriousness of the need for action, but it should be put in context.

* No-one is arguing that any tree identified as hazardous to the public should be retained, and in general there seems to be general agreement about the nature of the hazard.

* The financial implications are understated in the cabinet paper (2.1), being limited to £40,000 for the trees' removal. Previously a figure of £80,000 was being used as an estimate for replanting, and there is also the question of re-surfacing that has been raised in the JFL report. Residents will not be happy if the council commits to removing the trees without also committing appropriate funds for their replacement. The cabinet paper refers to replanting in winter 2009, but the JFL report suggests this can happen within 3-6 months of the trees' removal.

I have the greatest respect for the officer who wrote the report but I believe that in this instance she is mistaken in her conclusions. I would concur with the Welwyn Garden City Society and others who have suggested that in the south car park the re-establishment of the original pollarding scheme should be the immediate response, together with the removal of those trees that are hazardous, to be followed by a progressive programme of replacement that seeks to preserve the visual amenity of these trees whilst allowing time for proper planning and implementation of a long term solution.

I beg you to take the time to consider these views when reaching your conclusion - it would be a massive disappointment to many who enjoy the Lakes if the scene is devastated by the action proposed. Especially when there would appear to be a solution at hand that would satisfy both health and safety concerns, and the feelings of local people.

Nigel Quinton

Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats

Copy of letter to Finesse Leisure:

Dear Finesse Leisure

Like many others who live locally and visit the Stanborough Lakes area frequently I wish to register my comments about the Lombardy Poplars at the lakes.

As you are by now well aware, the communication of this issue with the public has been unfortunate to say the least. A decision to remove all the trees appears to have been taken and then rescinded in the face of public opposition, making the next step much more difficult than needed to be the case. As others have commented there is clearly scepticism about the independent nature of all three expert reports. But it seems action is required, and it needs to be taken quickly.

Having read the reports and also participated in some of the discussions within the panel set up by my ex-colleague Dr Dennis Lewis it seems to me there is a great deal of common ground in the assessments of risk and the identity of hazardous trees.

The difficulty comes from the proposed actions to be taken. The early reports lack substance and independence, and the council are surely at fault for not putting across a more convincing case for the proposed replacement programme - of which I can still find no copy in the public domain. The more recent report, by Julian Forbes-Laird, appears at first sight to be more comprehensive, but I understand that there are doubts about his objectivity and apparent leaning towards the more drastic "chop 'em down" tendency within his profession.

I believe that the current situation would best be approached with a view to minimise the impact of any remedial action as far as is possible, and to build an incremental programme that commands local support and in all probability has less onerous financial implications than the more drastic solutions that are being suggested. It seems from what has been submitted by the WGC Society and others that there is no need to remove all of the trees in the south car park as Forbes-Laird proposes. Crucially, Forbes-Laird argues against pollarding purely on aesthetical grounds, seemingly oblivious of the fact that the original planting of these trees was on the basis that they would be regularly pollarded to provide a 5m high screen. To my knowledge no-one has provided any objective argument that precludes the re-establishment of the pollarding scheme that was in place until the late eighties - presumably stopped when council finances were crippled by the Slough Estates affair!

It would therefore seem perfectly possible to adopt a programme of progressive replacement of the poplars over a number of years, using pollarding as the short to medium term solution in the south car park and a row by row approach in the north car park.

It would appear from the reports that there are trees that need to be replaced or pollarded in short order, and this should be done as a matter of priority. By the way, it does the council or Finesse's case no favours that despite pleas that this is a matter of Health and Safety and that therefore there is no alternative to chopping all the trees down (I paraphrase, but this is the clear message that the council leadership expressed at the council meeting recently) the car parks remain open and there are no signs warning the public of the danger.

What is crucial is that there is a proper consultation with local people on what they wish to see replacing the poplars and over what period. This must be presented much more sensitively than was the case in August.

I trust that you will listen to the views expressed across the community and make an informed and appropriate decision.

Nigel Quinton,

ex-Handside Councillor 2006-8,

now Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for

Hitchin & Harpenden.