Protest at ‘premature’ tree felling by council

Residents stopped the works for a period on Wednesday morning by walking onto the site to conduct a peaceful protest.
Residents stopped the works for a period on Wednesday morning by walking onto the site to conduct a peaceful protest.

A group of Morpeth residents made a peaceful protest on the site of tree felling works outside County Hall yesterday morning.

More than 50 people brought a halt to the works for a period just before 11am and they shouted ‘Save Our Trees’.

Lou Coel in one of the trees earmarked to be cut down during the protest.

Lou Coel in one of the trees earmarked to be cut down during the protest.

After felling operations took place at different parts of County Hall last week, tree cutting started again on Tuesday morning at Queen Elizabeth Way.

This will be part of the site for the relocated Morpeth First School if the planning application gets the green light later this year, but a number of residents opposed to the proposed housing and commercial developments at and next to County Hall believe there are more suitable locations in the area for the school.

As a result, they believe the actions are ‘premature’.

A county council spokesman said: “A small area of trees and bushes outside County Hall is being cleared ahead of a planning decision for the new £5.7million Morpeth First School on the site.

Tree cutting works taking place outside County Hall on Wednesday morning.

Tree cutting works taking place outside County Hall on Wednesday morning.

“By doing some preparatory work now it would allow the scheme to progress more quickly if the proposals are given the green light, by removing those trees within the footprint of the proposed school buildings before birds come to nest in the spring.

“Subject to planning permission, the new school is expected to open its doors in late 2018 and the landscaping scheme for the school seeks to retain as many of the existing trees as possible.

“This includes keeping most of the existing tree lined-avenue to create an attractive pedestrian route to the new school entrance.”

The legal status of the works has also been questioned.

Tree cutting works outside County Hall on Wednesday morning.

Tree cutting works outside County Hall on Wednesday morning.

Richard Wearmouth, Conservative candidate for Kirkhill at the county council elections in May, said: “The position of the council is that it’s entitled to do these works because the land is public open space.

“Our position is that it can’t do these works because it needs to have a felling licence from the Forestry Commission for anything more than five cubic metres of material taken down.”

The county council spokesman added: “The legal advice we have received is that the work done on the trees does not require a licence from the Forestry Commission.

“The council is operating within the powers it has in removing the trees.”

A group of the residents discussed the matter with Paul Jones of Northumberland County Council inside County Hall.

A group of the residents discussed the matter with Paul Jones of Northumberland County Council inside County Hall.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “Forestry Commission woodland officers have visited the site at County Hall in Morpeth and, while they investigate whether there has been a breach of felling licence regulations, we have advised Northumberland County Council not to fell any more trees.”