The Library Tree by Tom Roberts, Chair

During the course of 2009 I reported, both in Wivenhoe News and in the Society’s Newsletter, how the Wivenhoe Society was reacting to the felling of the tree outside the public library in the High Street. This saga is summarised below.

The state in which the poor old tree was left for a day or two in March 2009.Many Wivenhoe residents were very upset by the removal, in March 2009, of the whitebeam from outside the public library. One such resident, Pippa Allerton, said that, following a report of her dismay and shock in the Chronicle, people, some she hardly even knew, were accosting her in the street and in shops to commiserate. I too had similar experiences, and the sense of powerless outrage was almost tangible. Townscapes need trees and the removal of an urban tree can have a much greater visual and emotional impact than that of a similar one in the countryside. In this case there is also the fact that the tree partially screened the ugly library building. There is no public consultation on such matters: the first any of us knew about this decision was the roar of the chainsaw. An owner wishing to fell a tree within a conservation area must notify the planning authority but, according to Liam McKarry, the Borough officer responsible for dealing with such notifications, ‘the legislation clearly sets out that we cannot give consent or refusal to notifications to undertake works to trees protected by conservation areas – we either agree to the works or serve a tree preservation order. In this instance the tree in question did not merit such protection for two reasons:
1. In my professional opinion (and likely that of the tree officer at Essex County Council given he made the notification) the tree itself was not of sufficient quality in terms of species, size, health and long term viability to merit the TPO designation.
2. The tree was causing damage to the area that presented a trip hazard and was damaging the drainage channel.’

I guess many will question the judgement of that particular expert, but the damage is done. Until about ten years earlier there had in fact been two thriving whitebeams on the library forecourt and the Wivenhoe Society committee agreed to offer to pay for two replacement trees. At least discussions took place about suitable species (they clearly considered whitebeams unsuitable) and whether they should be planted a little further from the pavement. Clearly, no thought had ever been given over the years to replacing the first tree to be felled, so it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Wivenhoe Society’s initiative nudged the county council into doing so this time.

A point that I found particularly galling is that so much health and safety nonsense was applied to justify this vandalism – the so-called ‘trip hazard’ was an insignificant ripple in the tarmac at the inner edge of the pavement. On the other hand, this concern of both borough and county councils for pedestrians does not dampen their enthusiasm for erecting more and more posts, bollards and other obstructions on urban pavements.

On 15 July President Dave Harrison and myself, together with town councillor Fran Richards met the library service area manager Mark Norman to discuss how best to recover from the municipal vandalism of felling the whitebeam. Some of our fears were confirmed. The library service clearly follows health and safety precautions without the slightest leavening of common sense, which is why we lost the tree in the first place. For example, our suggestion that the enormous estimated cost of outside contractors to irrigate any new plantings could be eliminated by taking up the offer of a nearby resident to do the job for nothing was countered with difficulties about insurance and also that the said neighbour would need to be trained! But then we were told the contractor idea had never been seriously considered and that library staff could do the watering, which is what we had imagined would happen in the first place. No doubt they will first be sent on a course on the safe use of a watering can.