Bill Tomlinson, who heads Telford and Wrekin’s Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said it was not necessarily enough to give affected residents permission to carry out the work, as they may not be physically or financially able.
Council leader Shaun Davies said the borough’s Community Action Teams handle “liveability and vulnerability issues” like that in subscribing town and parish areas, and pointed out all councillors have discretionary ward funding they can put towards projects of their choice.
They were speaking during an update on the cabinet on the council’s tree and woodland and ash dieback management policies. Cabinet member Carolyn Healy said the borough had to act against the fungal infection, as “there isn’t a long-term national strategy to deal with this issue”.
A report by Neighbourhood Services chief Debbie Germany said Telford & Wrekin Council is responsible for around 15 million trees and the borough has “significantly more than many other towns and cities” overall, adding that the policies had been refreshed in light of the rise of ash dieback and the council’s 2019 resolution on climate change.
Councillor Healy, who holds the climate change and green spaces portfolio in the Labour administration, said: “The policy sets out the situations where we will intervene and carry out tree works, and when we won’t.
“In respect of ash dieback, the report seeks to provide an additional resource to survey our ash trees and start to undertake safety works.
“We spend around £487,000 per year managing our tree stock, and the report is asking for an additional £150,000 for one year to survey our ash trees.
“Unfortunately, the government has pulled the central funding that was available for work to deal with ash dieback across the country. In contacting government departments to ascertain whether this would be reinstated post-pandemic, we’ve been given the runaround, a little, with both DEFRA [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government telling us to talk to the other, so it’s clear, at present, there isn’t a long-term national strategy.
“We can’t wait for that, we’ve got to carry on and deal with those safety issues.”
Despite the “signficant effect” ash dieback was expected to have, the council still aims to increase tree coverage with new planting and Local Nature Reserve and Green Guarantee site designations, she added.
Councillor Tomlinson noted that Ms Germany’s report also referred to the council’s policy on pruning, and allowing affected landowners to cut authority trees.
“I know, occasionally, the arboreal team have gone above and beyond this,” he said.
“Where we have vulnerable adults, particularly pensioners, who simply haven’t got the means or physical capacity, we have chipped in, occasionally, to help.
“I would like to see that actually as a policy such that, where the people are either on low incomes or elderly, we will automatically step in and say we can do that.
“So if we could look to flex that policy to help people out, then I’d be very appreciative.”
Conservative leader Nigel Dugmore – who, like Councillor Tomlinson, attends cabinet meetings as a non-voting observer – praised the refreshed policies but also said he agreed with the Liberal Democrat’s suggestion.
Councillor Healy said budgetary pressure meant there “has to be a balance around where we can step in and where we can’t”.
Councillor Davies added: “I’d also like to highlight that the Community Action Teams will look at those liveability and vulnerability issues.”
He added that “councillors, through a budget that only the Labour party supported, have £5,000 a year to support their wards through their Councillor’s Pride fund”.
“That can be used for things you’ve also referenced, so there is a whole range of help,” he said.