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Greens criticise Council’s ‘dangerously unambitious’ tree planting policy


In late July 2019, following growing pressure from the Green Party, the Once Upon A Tree (Southend) campaign group, and residents, Cllr Carole Mulroney (Liberal Democrat – Cabinet member for Environment and Planning) announced a moratorium on the non-emergency felling of all street trees in Southend and announced that Southend Council will work with its Parks teams and Arborists to draft a new Tree Policy for the town. 

After a whole year working on this proposed policy, Southend Council has just released the Draft Policy alongside a public consultation which runs until 9 October 2020.


“NOT GOOD ENOUGH”

The South East Essex Green Party has thoroughly examined the Council’s draft policy, and we are saddened to report that the Council has completely missed a golden opportunity to make our town greener.

Despite the council’s existing “two-for-one replacement” policy being woefully substandard – a target which they hadn’t even met – this new policy will see a further slowdown in the already minimal tree planting across the borough.

By the council’s own figures, Southend’s current tree canopy coverage is just 11.95%, with wards like Westborough worst off with just 8.5%. For context, the National Urban Tree Cover average is 17%.

This new dangerously-unambitious policy aims to achieve a measly 3.05% increase to just 15% by 2050, which equates to just a 1% increase per decade.

In a time of Climate Emergency, this is simply not good enough.


Southend Council Ward 2019 % Canopy Cover
Belfairs Park Ward23.3%
Blenheim Park Ward12.7%
Chalkwell Ward12.0%
Eastwood Park Ward12.0%
Kursaal Ward9.4%
Leigh Ward9.7%
Milton Ward10.0%
Prittlewell Ward14.4%
Southchurch Ward11.0%
Shoeburyness Ward12.3%
St Laurence Ward10.0%
St Luke’s Ward12.7%
Thorpe Ward13.1%
Westborough Ward8.5%
West Leigh Ward14.4%
West Shoebury Ward8.6%
Victoria Ward9.0%
Borough of Southend (Average)11.95%

Tree Canopy Cover Report by Ward (Southend Borough Council, October 2019)


Planting trees is one of the easiest ways of tackling the Climate Emergency.

Southend Council’s own draft policy lists the many vital ways in which Trees benefit residents:

“Trees play an important role within an urban environment. There has been extensive research in recent years demonstrating the significant benefits trees bring to our physical and mental health, our social and economic wellbeing, to biodiversity, to the air we breathe, and the soil beneath our feet. They help offset the effects of heavy rainfall, helping to mitigate flood risk, and offset the urban heat island effect. They capture and store carbon and particulates which pose an increasing risk to human health.

And yet, in this policy Southend Council seeks to achieve the minutest of incremental increases in the number of trees within the borough over a ridiculously unambitious timeframe, seemingly contradicting its declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2019.

Why then, when it comes to planting trees – possibly one of the easiest, most cost-effective, and publically popular options available, is the Council so unenthusiastic and lacklustre?

In recent months, Southend Council has partially relied on supporting community groups such as Once Upon A Tree (Southend), who use charitable donations to buy saplings and whips and plant them in the town’s public parks. Volunteers have also aided the council in planting new whips in parks.

Whilst these community endeavours are to be commended, the real change needs to be in the council’s own planning priorities and culture which remain structurally unecological.


So, what options are available to Southend Council?

There are many easily-deliverable initiatives that would yield much higher canopy coverage in a much shorter timeframe, a necessity in view of impending ecological collapse, but such ideas would seem ‘unthinkable’ to a majority of existing Councillors and officers. Initiatives such as;

  • Protecting agricultural and green land at Fossetts Farm, Shoebury North, and Shoebury Garrison from destructive housebuilding, and instead, using the space to ‘re-afforest’ the land creating three new large woodland parks;
  • Creating new micro “Pocket Parks” on the abundance of vacant land across the borough;
  • Committing to planting street trees as part of wide-ranging ‘mini-Holland’ style traffic management systems;
  • Investigating a proportional reduction in on-street parking and car parks to facilitate new parks, allotments, and green spaces;
  • Implementing mandatory quotas for green spaces and community planting in new large brownfield housing and commercial developments, such as the Queensway and Seaway schemes;

These are just a few of the many available options the council could implement to achieve a much higher tree canopy cover across Southend. All of these schemes would (alongside major investment in public transport) deliver better air quality, better mental health, less traffic, improved flood management, and significantly higher carbon sequestration.

The South East Essex Green Party commits to delivering all of these schemes in Southend, alongside the many other transformative proposals outlined in our Manifesto.

Nationally, The Green Party aims to plant 700 million trees by 2030, as part of our radical vision for a cleaner and greener future.


Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions

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