I read the two contrasting letters about the tree campaign printed January 7, 2017, one from Steve J and one from Mr Paul Colkand. Let me say that I’m in the Steve J camp and feel the council and Amey could have handled the tree element of the Streets Ahead project better and I too wonder what was in the contract?
In my experience of major contracts there’s usually a contingency element of about 2.5% to 5% of the gross contract value included to cover unexpected events and consequent cost overruns. In a £2.2 billion contract that’s some £55 million to £110 million. The council certainly don’t seem to have forseen the tree issues and the depth of feeling about their preferred management process so I would have thought the contingency fund could be made available to cover any additional necessary costs involved in implementing a more sensible strategy. If there is no ‘contingency fund’ then it begs the question - why? If there is a contingency fund and they’ve chosen not to use it in this case then that begs the same question. Why? One has to query the competence of the council.
The other option of course is that they’ve used the contingency already (why?) or it is being saved for a ‘rainy day’ - again why? Most citizens would think this is the ‘rainy day’ so use some of the contingency fund! If not why not?
As regards Mr Colk’s letter about political agendas I’d like to make a few comments.
The tree campaign started in earnest in Spring 2015 and is and has always been a cross-party campaign that just happens to have begun in the areas of the city with the most highway trees. In fact one of the strengths of the campaign is that very fact that it is cross-party. The campaign rather like Brexit is I think a plea to politicians of all parties to get their act together for the betterment of the community. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrat politicians and their officers and advisers are culpable in creating the situation in which we find ourselves. But it’s the Labour party that has the power to try and put the situation right by implementing a more sensible approach not least by spreading the tree replacement programme over the full 25 years of the contract rather than sticking rigidly to the first five years of the contract. And of course they should use the engineering solutions that are available to them, both the free ones - the 1-14 options that Steve J. mentions - and others that could be paid for from the contingency fund.
As regards trees and Liberal Democrat areas of the city. I do hope that people completed the Council’s recent highway tree strategy consultation, as I did, by asking that the Council turn the poorer, grey areas of the city green by planting highway trees wherever possible. Why can’t Parson Cross and Darnall and Arbourthorne and so on be as green as the leafy south western suburbs? I really do hope that turning the city’s suburbs from ‘grey to green’ is going to be on the Council’s agenda and forms a significant part of the forthcoming tree strategy.
Why aren’t more people asking for that? I really would like to know. If not why not? Let’s hope the Council surprises us and make it a feature of their plans but I’m not holding my breath as it certainly wasn’t part of the Council’s draft tree strategy offered for consultation.
Mr Colk makes the point that there are many other important issues that need addressing because of poverty in the city. I agree and I think that all parties not least the Liberal Democrats are well aware of them and want to improve the situation for our fellow citizens. In my experience Liberal Democrat supporters are amongst the most active in trying to change the situation not least by the nature of the jobs they have, their charity work and their giving to charitable causes. Of course more can be done but the current austerity policies of central government have certainly made things difficult for our Council and its citizens - much more difficult than they should have done or needed to do in my opinion. A further point I’d like to make in this regard is that Streets Ahead funding, as I understand it, can only be used for the purpose it was intended - the improvement of the highways of the city including lighting and highway tree management. It can’t be used for
social services or education or any other Council purpose so it’s ‘use it for highways or lose it’.
A final point I’d like to make is that The Star, in my opinion, has reported the tree issues in an impartial manner throughout. Indeed the fact that newspaper can print both letters in the same issue rather proves the point.