Trees, motions, National Highways and dead trees

To avoid ending up in a complicated mess of paraphrasing other people I have copied and pasted a ‘member’s briefing note on motions’, but that language in itself is fairly alien and inaccessible.

So just for clarity ‘members’ are Councillors or the elected members of the council, in this instance Cambridgeshire County Council, and I am your County Councillor elected in May 2021.  

A motion is a request for action a councillor can bring to the county council.  The county councillors vote on it at full council (a meeting all the councillors are expected to attend) and if it is successful (is supported by a majority) the officers (employees) of the county council are then instructed to do what is requested in the motion.   

Briefing notes are the notes the officers (council employees) write to give the councillors (elected representatives) information about the subject as not all the councillors will necessarily have a great deal of knowledge about what the subject matter they are voting on.

In this instance Councillor Edna Murphy from Girton and Bar Hill division was so frustrated that she wasn’t receiving the information she was asking for from the County Council about the A14 trees her residents were complaining were dying that she felt she had no choice but to bring this motion to full council to shake the council out of it’s apathy and bring the issue under the full glare of public scrutiny.  At this point some of the information she had been asking about for the past 6 months was finally provided less than 24 hours before the meeting.  This motion is intended to direct the County Council to recognise the importance of this issue and be more open in their dealings with National Highways and the public. The motion was successful and from memory every one except a single Conservative councillor voted in support of the motion.

Nb. I’m no expert but I have made a habit of sticking my head into those plastic tubes lining the A14 locally (those which are accessible) and I’d say the success rate looks a bit higher than 6% but nevertheless the success or failure of those planted saplings is really important and National Highways could do a lot more.

Here is the information the county council provided on the subject.

Members Briefing Note on Motions :

The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme Development Consent Order 2016 included requirements for the implementation and maintenance of landscaping, including an extensive programme of tree planting – Schedule 2; Requirement 7 Requirement 7 includes the following:

(4) All landscaping works must be carried out in accordance with the approved landscaping scheme and carried out to a reasonable standard in accordance with the relevant recommendations of appropriate British Standards or other recognised codes of good practice.

(5) Any tree or shrub planted as part of the landscaping scheme that, within a period of 5 years after planting, dies or becomes, in the opinion of the relevant planning authority, seriously diseased, must be replaced in the first available planting season with a specimen of the same species and size as that originally planted.

In summer 2020 officers were advised by the Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) site agent that the trees originally planted as required by Requirement 7 were dying back at a rate of 94%. It was understood that this was due to poor maintenance by the National Highways (NH) contractor, plus poor underlying ground conditions. During 2021 National Highways attempted to address this by re-planted new saplings.

The Motion expresses the Council’s concerns that:

– residents of Longstanton and Girton currently believe they can hear the A14 more than they did before the upgrade. Due to the failure of the original plantings and the time taken for tree growth to have a meaningful impact on noise attenuation further time is required to determine the effectiveness of the tree planting on achieving the desired effect of masking the traffic noise.

– residents report many trees are dying. On inspection it is obvious that many tree saplings are failing to thrive.

– if you ask National Highways for an update on the situation they only say they are counting how many trees need replacing.

National Highways carries out an inspection of trees each spring with replacements planted the following planting season. Concerns have been raised with NH by CCC officers on the overall scale of the dieback and the identification of any underlying issue. NH have confirmed that the inspection for Spring 2022 will be undertaken in March and will inform any required planting programme.

The Motion recognises the need to:

– focus more on the challenge of ensuring that these trees thrive, and that those that do not are replanted, with changes to their management to ensure that they do thrive in future.

– be more proactive in its dealings with National Highways to ensure this project can make a real contribution to mitigating the effects of the climate emergency. It is vital the situation is gripped, and the County Council corporately views this as a critical environmental project, not just a legacy compliance issue from a road building project.

Maintenance liability will remain with NH following adoption of each asset. Year 1 following adoption will be covered by NH’s landscaping contractor, and for years 2 to 5, the costs will be met by NH. CCC have been asked by NH to obtain a quote from CCC’s supply chain (Milestone) for undertaking the grass cutting element during years 2 to 5. It is understood that NH will continue to undertake the vegetation clearance work until the end of year 5. NH retains the responsibility for tree maintenance for Years 1-5. As the tree planting strategy produced and provided to the appropriate planning authorities does not have a formal adoption date, clarification was requested by CCC officers regarding the start date for the five-year maintenance contract.

NH have confirmed the five-year maintenance period commences from the date of the issue of the Completion Certificate for each section of the road improvements, the start date will therefore vary from asset to asset. There will be trees in land that have been adopted by the County Council that are still covered by the National Highways commitment to maintain for five years – even if this means that National Highways have to replant to account for any ongoing die off. In these locations if National Highways fail to maintain and replant to take account of die back it would be a Planning Enforcement issue for the relevant district councils if it was felt that the level of traffic noise attenuation was not being achieved by the establishing trees. This could equally apply to locations where the assets are adopted by the County Council, and it would be the responsibility of CCC to identify any issues. The number of trees and shrubs planted in the area that CCC is adopting is:

• Total number of trees and shrubs 40,086

• Total length of hedges planted is 4,037metres

The Motion asks the Council to resolves to:

  1. ask that National Highways publish facts and figures on a regular basis about the tree planting work – for example
  2. how many trees were planted originally o
  3. how many alive after periods of time eg quarterly, annually
  4. how many are replanted and when
  5. o what changes to management should be made to ensure more will thrive
  6. o what annual processes are engaged with in relation to tree management
  7. o what is the estimated and actual contribution to carbon reduction

Members may consider it appropriate to ask officers to engage with National Highways to agree the content and format of appropriate reporting on the management and monitoring of the landscaping and tree planting programme.

  • report regularly the progress of tree planting and its contribution to reducing the County’s carbon footprint from motorised vehicles to the Environment and Green Investment Committee, and the details of the contract to the Strategy and Resources Committee.

Members are asked to note the Joint Administration Action Plan identified the requirement for a Council Trees and Woodland Strategy. This is under development and due to come to Environment and Green Investment Committee in July 2022. The strategy will look to develop the baseline for trees across the Council’s assets and include the A14 trees as part of this once all the contractual details are finalised with National Highways.

The reporting on the Trees and Woodland strategy will include the quantification of both air quality and decarbonisation benefits locally. CCC officers will be able to report on elements of the Landscape Maintenance contract passed to CCC for implementation, currently this is restricted to the grass cutting elements of the maintenance programme. National Highways can be asked to provide information on contracts they remain responsible for

  • ensure that the relevant officers dealing with environment, decarbonisation and flooding are engaged in ensuring the tree planting project is managed and that the project continues to operate within the Council’s decarbonisation goals.

Members are asked to note that the basic tenet for tree planting and management is ‘The Right Tree in the Right Place’. Inappropriate tree planting can cause as many problems as you are trying to solve. The Trees and Woodland Strategy due to go to committee in July addresses these environment, carbon and water management issues by ensuring they are taken into account when developing woodland schemes on land we own or manage. There are agreed targets around decarbonisation and biodiversity in our Climate Change and Environment Strategy and KPIs under development to underpin reporting on the strategy.

Officers are always looking for funding opportunities for further tree planting. For example, last year the Council led a successful bid to the Local Authority TreeScape fund working with District colleagues. Relevant officers will work together to ensure the joined-up delivery of the council’s decarbonisation goals, including highway tree planting programmes.

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