Removal of trees at County Hall site angers residents

Coun Andrew Tebbutt by a couple of the trees that were cut down outside County Hall on Saturday.

Coun Andrew Tebbutt by a couple of the trees that were cut down outside County Hall on Saturday.

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The felling of some trees outside County Hall in Morpeth has been strongly criticised by residents and councillors.

Those against the action, which started at the weekend and continued today, claim that none of the trees in the courtyards needed to be cut down and many of them were of a ‘high quality’.

Northumberland County Council says the trees had become ‘large and overgrown’, blocking a lot of natural light into the offices as a result.

County councillors from each of the three main parties have also had their say.

County Hall could be knocked down as the authority is moving to a new headquarters in Ashington and an application has been submitted to demolish the buildings and construct up to 200 new homes.

The South Morpeth Coalition, which is opposing the bid, has referred to a report by the AllAboutTrees consultancy in relation to these plans and a proposal for a commercial development at the former fire station and Merley Croft sites.

Member David Holden said: “The arboricultural report states that the actual condition of the large group of mature trees in the main courtyard were of high A-grade quality, had 40-plus years life left, had only minor encroachment on to buildings, and only needed to be pruned clear of the buildings.

“The report recommends that these trees were to be retained and their roots protected during the proposed demolition process.

“The smaller trees in the southern courtyard were moderate quality and the report stated: ’No tree works required at the present time’.

“Not one of the trees in these courtyards needed to be felled.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “Trees in the internal quadrant at County Hall were removed over the weekend.

“Over the years they had become large and overgrown, blocking a lot of natural light into the offices.

“Given that the trees would need to be removed anyway once the building is vacated when staff move to Ashington, it made sense to remove them now rather than waste money undertaking maintenance work to them.

“The work has been done prior to any birds nesting in the spring and was carried out at the weekend to minimise staff disruption.”

Coun Andrew Tebbutt is the local ward councillor and he went to have a look at the works after being informed by a resident who spotted what was going on when walking his dog.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said: “It is almost beyond belief that the mature trees in these two courtyards used by staff during lunch breaks can be wilfully destroyed so far in advance of any final decisions on the future of the site.

“It makes no sense except as a spiteful gesture.

“This is an arrogance by the Labour leadership who we already knew don’t care one bit about the feelings and sensitivities of Morpeth residents, but clearly now don’t care about staff either.

“They obviously believe they will get planning permission – but planning is supposed to be outside party politics.”

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Northumberland Conservative group, said: “The extent to which this Labour/Independent run council will go with its scorched earth policies before the elections in May knows no bounds.

“This is just one example among many that shows how they are actively trying to destroy the character of many of our communities across the county.”

Conservative county councillor David Bawn, member for Morpeth North, said: “Even if sense prevails and the council stays at County Hall after the election, this petty vandalism has made it a less attractive workplace for council staff.”

Coun Grant Davey, leader of the Northumberland Labour group and county council, said: “I’m amazed at the Tories’ and Lib Dem group’s new found love of trees given how many have been felled to print their various untruths, especially around the move from County Hall back to the county’s market towns.

“I’m also amazed at Coun Tebbutt, Jackson and Bawn’s entreaties on behalf of staff given the first two presided over the near privatisation of the council when they had their last coalition deal in the county.

“We’ve employed more staff, introduced the Northumberland Living Wage and we’re using our financial resources to offset the Government’s savage cuts to services.”