“A happy ending to an untidy story!” – South Kesteven finally gets serious about trees.

A year ago, in October 2018, a group of workmen arrived unexpectedly at the Deepings Leisure Centre to cut down the mature tree which had dominated the car park since the centre was built.

Neither the Leisure Centre staff nor the staff of the Deepings School which shares the car park had been made aware that the tree had been condemned and neither had any of the ward councillors. As a frequent visitor to the leisure centre (and its car park) I was dismayed that what seemed likely a healthy tree had been destroyed.

This is part of the reason why, on 10th June, I wrote to the Chair of SKDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee asking that the topic of “Tree Stategy” be added to the workplan of that committee. When the draft workplan was published without any reference to trees, I wrote to the Chief Executive tabling a motion to Full Council that SKDC should develop a tree strategy to protect, improve and enhance the number and quality of trees in the District adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees.

During the debate it became clear that the Tories couldn’t stomach the idea that an Independent might successfully propose such an initiative and sure enough not a single Tory voted in favour of it (although 8 were brave enough to abstain).

A few days after the meeting, the relevant Portfolio Holder, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con), appeared in the Stamford Mercury holding a copy of the Woodland Trust Charter which he and his colleagues had voted against.

Fast forward a few months and we skip to the good bit…

…the Environment OSC met once again in September, this time with trees firmly on the agenda although not exactly as ‘Tree Strategy’. The tree guidelines which were discussed and approved included a protocol for making Councillors aware of forthcoming tree works in their respective wards (so we can avoid another sorry incident like that at Deepings Leisure Centre) and how to communicate with other public bodies and landowners about works to trees. It was agreed that at a future meeting the committee will discuss proactive tree planting and tree protection measures including how to ensure Tree Protection Orders are used to best effect.

Arguably the best news of the day was that Cllr Moseley proposed that the Council adopt a “Woodland Trust Local Government Charter for Trees”. As far as I can surmise it is almost exactly the same, in principle, as the Charter that I had proposed to Full Council but, because it had now become a Conservative idea, it received unbridled support. I’m happy to let them take credit for the initiative and the intervening work with the Woodland Trust. The result is a Charter that will hopefully be more easily adopted by other councils up and down the country. As I said at the time “this is a happy ending to an untidy story”.

“We’ve got this Charter which is a happy ending to an untidy story.
But now that we’ve said we are dedicated to trees, I think we need a proactive approach to saying to communities ‘Which trees do you value? We would like to help you TPO them!'”.

Apart from being good news for trees and climate change, there is another reason for celebrating this progress. It is further evidence of the new SKDC Cabinet, under the leadership, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con), being prepared to reflect and reconsider ideas which may have originated from ‘opposition’ councillors. Although Cllr Cooke hasn’t shared any Cabinet positions or Chairmanships, nor the money and influence that accompanies those special responsibilities, it does seem that in small ways a more collaborative approach is starting to take shape. This can only be a good thing for the Council as a whole.

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