Scarborough residents fight to defend trees on Westbourne Park

Protesters campaign against the felling of trees on Westbourne Park.
Protesters campaign against the felling of trees on Westbourne Park.

Residents of a leafy Scarborough crescent who held back workmen trying to fell their roadside trees have had a showdown with council officers who ordered the work to be done.

More than 30 people living in Westbourne Park, Falsgrave, turned out on Thursday to confront three representatives of North Yorkshire County Council Highways Department who arrived to inspect the trees.

Previously, Scarborough Council workmen had turned up unannounced and felled a rowan tree near the crescent’s northernmost junction with Seamer Road.

Before more trees could be felled, the residents used their cars to protect them by blocking off access to the workmen.

“There is no excuse whatsoever for destroying these trees,” said resident John Hobson, 71, a building conservation consultant.

“This is a conservation area. The trees are not diseased or dangerous. No notices were posted on them, nobody living here was notified that anything like this was about to happen, nor had any of the necessary paperwork been completed for work in a conservation area.

“Trees are important. They help keep the air clean, produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, store carbon, create shade, prevent flooding and provide shelter and food for wildlife.

“If regulations are disregarded, we will find our towns and cities stripped bare of all urban trees – as very nearly happened in Sheffield last year.”

Westbourne Park was developed in the late 19th century and photographs taken in 1908 show it had more than 30 trees back then. It is the only example in Falsgrave of a 19th century tree-lined crescent.

Highways Department area manager Richard Marr, project manager Rob Vasey and communications officer Andrew Santon walked around the road answering questions put to them by residents, several of whom said they were frustrated and angered by the handling of the project and the different reasons they had been given for the proposed destruction of the trees.

They want the remaining trees left standing unless it can be established beyond doubt that they are dangerous or close to death. They want any trees removed to be replaced as close as possible to the removal points and they want several of the trees lost over the last century to be replaced.

Mr Marr said that Scarborough Borough Council acted as an agency of the county council in connection with roadside trees. He said the borough council appeared to have “jumped in and removed one tree without going through the proper notification process”. No-one from the borough council attended Thursday’s inspection.

Three trees, a whitebeam outside no 27, a bird cherry opposite, known in Yorkshire as a white lilac, and a hawthorn tree halfway around the crescent now carry signs saying they are to be removed for “footpath improvements”.

Mr Hobson said: “We’ve also been told the whitebeam may be dangerous because it is overhanging the road and that its canopy is dying at the top, that the bird cherry likes to grow to a height of 25 metres, which is too high for a residential road, and that the hawthorn is “straggly”.

"We have had our own independent inspection done and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these trees that can’t be cured by simple maintenance.

“The whitebeam needs one heavy branch removing nearest to the road. This will stop it interfering with the passage of any tall vehicles and will help the tree grow vertically again. The canopy is so thick that the roots can’t supply enough water for the shoots and leaves in the crown to be healthy. Thinning out the canopy will solve that.

“The bird cherry is a beautiful tree and it only grows to a height of 20m to 25m when it is in the wild. The one in Westbourne Park is mature. It has been trimmed down in height in the past and can be trimmed down again in the future if necessary.

“There is nothing at all wrong with the hawthorn.”

At a packed meeting after the inspection in St James Community Centre in Seamer Road, Mr Vasey said: “We have a duty to maintain the highways, including the footpaths. Some of the footpaths in this road have been affected by the roots of the trees and are well past their prime.”

Mr Santon said: “We are by no means anti-tree. Wherever possible, we defend trees strongly. There have been cases where people have told us they do not like trees outside their houses and have asked us to remove them but we have refused because they are healthy, not dangerous and not interfering with drains and services.”

Mr Marr said that the decision to cut down four trees had been taken following the recommendations of Scarborough Council but that the trees would not be felled until the highways department had commissioned a second independent inspection and prepared a report that would be available to protesters.

Resident Ray Springall, 74, said: “I think everybody in this room agrees that we need footpaths that are level and safe. But trees take many years to grow and mature and we want to keep our beautiful tree-lined crescent – which should not be a problem if the trees are properly maintained.”

Several residents said they would be happy for new trees to be planted outside their houses. Highways department officers promised to get back with a report and proposals in a few weeks.

After the meeting, Mr Marr said: “It was a valuable and amicable discussion. I hope we have allayed the fears of the residents and can come up with a good solution.”

Scarborough Deputy Mayor and Green Party councillor Dilys Cluer attended the meeting along with Scarborough Labour councillor Liz Colling, who also lives in Westbourne Park.