Community gathers in Harlesden to urge Brent chiefs to protect the trees in the borough
PUBLISHED: 08:17 17 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:50 17 January 2020
Council officers have promised an audience in Harlesden “a change of approach” which could see greater protection of the borough’s trees.
Brent Trees hosted a lively meeting at Newman Catholic College, in Harlesden Road on Wednesday, January 15 which was attended by panellists, council officers, councillors, and the leader of Brent Council, Cllr Muhammed Butt, who was pressed on funding.
There has been anger across the borough, as previously reported in the Times, as council officers appeared to disregard trees and conservation areas in a drive to asphalt pavements.
Notices appeared on mature trees in Furness Road, saying that 11 would be chopped down, leading to the meeting being organised.
Notices also appeared in Mapespbury and Willesden Green, and a petition was launched in the Ridgeway, Kenton.
Kicking off the first of three items on the agenda was Furness Road neighbour Alison Durant, speaking about the value of mature trees, after her community managed to save all but three.
"There are serious flaws in Brent Council's approach to assessing its trees and its tree removal programme. The reasons aren't significant enough in our opinion," she said.
She talked about the environmental benefits of trees, including carbon dioxide mitigation, improvements to rainwater run off, air cooling in a "climate crazed crisis" and the effect on mental health.
She criticised Brent's Climate Emergency Declaration saying there was no action relating to mature trees, only replacing them with saplings. He said: "Replacement trees will take 20 to 40 years for them to do what mature trees are already doing."
She said the council should commit to prioritising all trees, removing them only as a last resort and replacing them with appropriate species.
Chris Whyte, the council's head of environment, said the council does value trees, adding the "strength of opinion" in Furness Road had been "overwhelming". He said it led the council to retain street trees by introducing engineering solutions to "reprofile the footway" which has had problems such as trip hazards.
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He said: "That will only ever be a sticking plaster because those roots and that problem won't disappear it will only be hidden. This is accepting we need to keep these trees in place but acknowledging the problem won't go away but will re-emerge."
There was a chorus of agreement from the crowd when Martin Redstone took the podium to criticise the lack of communication and consultation.
"The community needs to be told why a tree is to be removed... Brent's website should clearly indicate why trees are to be cut down, and why these trees have to be removed and why they have been removed in the past," he said. "Things shouldn't happen at short notice."
Mr Whyte said: "There's been some gaps in the quality of our info. We haven't felt compelled to consult and enter debate but that may be something we need to do in the future."
He said there is a "real opportunity" for the Brent Trees group to "enter a constant dialogue [with us] to get things back to a proper footing".
One audience member said the rollout of 5G seemed to "coincide with more trees cut down", and said there was a "conflict of interest" as the council would receive money from telecom companies.
Gary Rimmer, Brent's trees officer, said: "We have not removed a single tree on the street that has anything to do with 5G".
Calling for answers about funding and resources Hannah Spreadbury showed slides suggesting other comparable boroughs, including Hackney, out-perform Brent with their tree policies.
Cllr Butt said different boroughs, some of which were "more affluent", should not be compared and pointed the finger at government budget cuts.
"We're seeing the implications of the decisions we've taken," he said. "The money we've reallocated in making sure we're protecting frontline services, childrens social care and adult social care is looked after."
He suggested people attended Brent's Connect Forums to join conversations about the budget, on which the current consultation ends on January 31.
Katie Pedder, chair of the meeting, said: "We're keen to harness the passionate and the commitment of the people here."
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