Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tree Works

In the minutes of the TRA meeting on 29th March it was noted that the Vice Chair Ram Jatan had written to the council about tree pruning. It had been years since it had been done, and many people on the lower floors had not seen daylight for some time. Some trees had dead branches which could fall on passersby at any time, and others were growing dangerously close to the buildings.

New and efficient Tenancy Officer Kerrie Taylor promptly got on the case and the next meeting on 26th April was attended by Head of Estate Services, Vince Buchanan. He told the meeting that they intended to commence a pruning programme and admitted that this work hadn't been done for three years (some think the gap is longer, possibly four or five years). A survey was conducted around five years ago (?) in which the trees were numbered, and which showed a lot of work was required then to reduce, shape and lift. Much of that work was done around that time. A tree which had been cut down to a stump then has now grown back to a good twenty feet. That's how long ago this work was last done. 

The meeting requested that Vince's team put up notices around the estate so that everyone knew what was going to happen. And Vince promised the Chair a list of works along with a schedule.

On 30th May, Vince emailed the TRA Chair, Tim, a "notice" about the tree works. This email and notice was also copied to Tenancy Officer Kerrie Taylor, with a request for her to arrange printing of the notice and posting on the estate. Why Vince could not arrange for his own team to do this is anyone's guess. Vince said in his email to Tim that works would begin in July, but the "notice" gave no start date whatsoever.

Tim was unable to attend the TRA meeting the following evening on 31st May due to work commitments, but the attending Tenancy Officer, Ebemi, handed out 6 copies (though there were twice that number in attendance) of a set of maps of all the trees on the estate and a list of trees to be attended to at Frankham House. No date for commencement was given.

Less than a week later, on 6th June, work began on Frankham.

Since the work had begun ahead of the promised time of "July", Tim hurriedly emailed "the notice" to the few people who are on the TRA email list, but in the meantime, the notice never appeared in print anywhere on the estate.

The "notice" was not really a notice, it was a letter. It stated that thanks to a request made at a recent TRA meeting, Lewisham Green Scene would be arranging for contractors to carry out works to the trees. A few of the smaller trees on the estate would be removed where they directly impact on buildings and structures. The bulk of the work to be done involved pruning, to ensure clearance from buildings, and reduce encroachment over footways and highways, thus conforming to highway regulations. Also deadwood within trees would be removed for safety reasons.

It was written by Rick Farr, Tree Services Manager and invited comments and questions to go to trees@lewisham.gov.uk by 21st June – even though work already appeared to have started.

Implied indirectly in the letter was the fact that no work would be taking place at all if someone at the TRA hadn't suggested it was about time the trees were pruned because it was so long ago that they had been touched.

Meanwhile, Tim fielded questions and concerns to Lewisham's Tree Officer, Linda, and to the Manager, Rick, as follows:

Q: Shouldn't the trees have been pruned in winter?
A: No, now was a good time to carry out the works, especially after all the rain.
Q: What about nesting birds?
A: The contractor will have carried out a risk assessment and it is their contractual responsibility not to disturb any birds or bats, since there is a hefty fine and it's a criminal offence under the Countryside & Wildlife Act.
Q: What about the trees which are food for the birds such as cherry trees?
A: (not sure we got an answer for that one)
Q: Aren't the trees protected now that the area is a conservation zone?
A: No, the council are exempt.

At the next (and most recent) TRA meeting on 28th June, some Frankham House residents complained about the quality of the work done on their trees earlier in the month. At this time, less than a week ago, we still had no news of what date the work on the rest of the estate would start, and no notices had gone up. Perhaps our new and efficient Tenancy Officer, Kerrie, is unwell, and no one has picked up the slack (she hasn't attended the last two meetings and the TRA miss her). Unfortunately, this blog did not post up any information either, since this writer was too busy doing paid work. Anyway, it is not the responsibility of a volunteer-run blog (or TRA, for that matter) to do the job of paid council workers in letting all residents know about impending works.

Today, work started, taking all by surprise, and alarming those who had not been warned about it. The noise of the chainsaws was deafening. Only a small part of the work was done, so will no doubt continue until every tree has been reduced to an elfin version of itself. The effect is quite shocking – the two trees below had been as tall as the top floor.

Some residents are pleased to at last be able to get some light into their gloomy rooms, whilst others bemoan their loss of privacy (since the trees provided a screen from the flats opposite or from the road). If birds were still nesting, no one will know, since the debris was quickly cleared away and fed into a wood mulcher to be spat out as sawdust into a Beeches Treecare truck.

Those who are feeling rather bereft at the severe short back and sides our beautiful big trees are receiving might be consoled by the knowledge that they will soon grow back – even the ones reduced to a stump. However, those who love bird-song may wonder where the birds have gone.

We hope this post helps explain the situation to those who were caught unawares. An email has gone to Vince Buchanan requesting notices be put up, and also suggesting a walkabout is arranged, so that people have the opportunity to come along and understand which trees have to be removed or have work done to them, and to give some reassurance.

UPDATE Wednesday 4 July: Vince says he's unaware of any agreement to put up notices but will do so and arrange a walkabout for a "delegation" of the TRA (NO! Vince, a walkabout for anyone who wants to know what's going on). Oh, and no worries, it'll all soon be over, work is progressing well! He appears arrogantly dismissive of the distress caused by his failure to notify residents.

UPDATE Thursday 5 July: No notices yet. No word about a walkabout. Not even a Polite Notice to apologise for the unprecedented noise and inconvenience (which is affecting businesses in the area as well as the residents), let alone anything to explain to them why it's going on.

Having not been given any schedules, we don't know how long this will go on, but seeing there are many trees left to be done, we can predict it will continue well into next week. It is still not too late for a Polite Notice.

UPDATE Friday 6 July: Notice has gone up. Hurrah! And it's confirmed that the work will take another two weeks.


  1. I don't know whether to be happy or sad. I loved the trees despite the darkness.

  2. I heard them shouting "That one, that one and that one, Reduce" this morning. Then I heard the guy up the tree going "There's a lot on this one" as if that wasn't obvious when he started. I'd like to know what is meant by "Reduce" as that sounds like "Cut some off" when in reality the result is "Cut in half". Would like to be kept posted on the walkabout but expect it will be when I'm at work.

  3. the dumbest thing ever to do to a tree

  4. If the work had been done in Winter and more regularly, it would not be so shocking now. Also it would've been much quicker, and less expensive for leaseholders, who will be footing the bill for this.

  5. Leaseholders who bought ats to make a killing and who benefit from the work they're asked to contribute to?