UPDATE: Tree felling resumes outside County Hall
Works to fell a set of trees outside County Hall in Morpeth have resumed this afternoon.
After felling operations took place at different parts of the site last week, the tree cutting started again this morning at Queen Elizabeth Way.
It was temporarily halted when residents questioned the legal status of the works and one of the protestors, Bruce Gibson, discussed the matter with Northumberland County Council chief executive Steven Mason.
Police were called to the site and officers arrived shortly before 12.30pm to speak with the people there and the works resumed at about 12.45pm.
Les Sage, one of those at the scene, said: “I’m just heartbroken at what’s happening here as once again the county council is doing something that goes against what the people wanted in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan by cutting down all these trees.
“I know you need to have progress, but it needs to take into account the views of local residents. We have been ignored.
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.
“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.”
In response to this, local ward county councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “This is a disgrace – it shouldn’t be happening without planning permission.
“The issue of birds nesting can be resolved, for example with netting or bird scarers.
“It’s all about maximising the value of the land and it’s so sad to see these beautiful trees being cut down.”
On the legal issue, 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.”
Workers from the Forestry Commission arrived at County Hall this afternoon.