Council's tree pits bill branded ‘bonkers'

'Green agenda' splurge is waste of money, say critics

Friday, 2nd March 2018 — By William McLennan

Tree pits

The tree pits in Little Venice 

A £57,000 bill to cover up the bases of trees lining two streets has been described as a “bonkers” use of council funds.

Conservative councillors in Little Venice chose to spend their “ward budget” on revamping the pits at the bottom of trees lining Warrington Crescent and Sutherland Avenue.

But their Labour opponents have questioned the cost of the works, which they estimate comes in at £500 per tree, and said the money could be better spent on lighting and CCTV cameras in the spot that a charity worker was stabbed to death last year.

Cllr David Harvey, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for environment, defended the outlay and said it was part of their “green agenda”.

He said they had planned 2,000 new trees across the borough in recent years, adding: “Our residents hate to see good trees suffer and fail, tree pits help them thrive. Trees absorb masses of the air pollution that resident surveys tell us is one of the top issues across Westminster.”

Murad Qureshi, who is standing on the Labour ticket in Little Venice at the local elections in May, said: “It’s bonkers. We certainly think it’s very expensive, but quite honestly there are better options. For example, there is a desperate need to improve lighting on the passage at the side of St Mary’s Church. That was the place that the unfortunate killing of Abdul Samad took place. That should be the priority, not prettifying things on a few streets.”

On his blog, Mr Qureshi wrote: “Measures against the fear of crime and making people feel secure in the neighbourhood were not considered at all.”

Asked about the decision to prioritise the so-called “tree pits” above other concerns, Cllr Harvey said: “The ward members talked to residents and air quality is one of the biggest priorities when you talk to people. One of the most effective things we can do is plant trees and protect them. That’s a 100-year legacy.”

Mr Qureshi questioned the decision to contract construction firm Conway, suggesting instead that a local nursery could be paid to plant flowers in the tree pits.

He said: “It’s very expensive and benefits a very small area.”

Cllr Harvey said: “This ward budget spend has been checked through with experts, not local builders (good at buildings, but perhaps not trees), to get the answer most likely to nurture 114 trees on Warrington Crescent and Sutherland Avenue. The new material to be used in the tree pits is rubberised, permeable and flexible for the health of the trees and particularly allows the roots to grow without causing cracking or the break-up of the surface or damaging the trees.”

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