Great Britain

Row as senior Darlington councillor lops mature tree

A ROW has erupted over action to lop a mature tree outside a senior councillor’s home which he says has been affecting the health of his family and threatening the property.

Darlington Borough Council cabinet member for children’s services Councillor Jon Clarke said he employed tree surgeons to reduce a sycamore tree with an unknown owner by two-thirds after it grew to overhang his property by 12ft.

The Conservative Harrowgate Hill member said sticky leaves dropping off the tree had made his dog ill and he had feared in high winds branches could crash into his conservatory.

His wife sent a social media message asking for a recommendation for a tree surgeon, which prompted concerns among environmentalists and Green Party activists.

The activists issued a request to the council to proceed with a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), which was confirmed by the authority’s head of planning and neighbourhood services.

Once the process for such orders is launched it is an offence to carry out works on a tree without the council’s consent.

Cllr Clarke said following a visit to the site by environmental group Darlington Forest Project, which is dedicated to planting and maintaining trees in the borough, there was “a commotion” in the street.

He said after receiving “veiled threats” from aspiring Green Party councillor Thom Robinson, he double checked with the council and was advised the TPO process would not be started until the following morning, so the tree could be cut that day.

He said the tree surgeons had focused on the tree’s largest branches of the tree, which the council had since confirmed would not have been considered worthy of a TPO.

Mr Robinson, a tree surgeon, said he had been stunned that the tree had been lopped by an elected councillor, despite a senior council officer having confirmed the TPO process had been launched.

He accused Cllr Clarke of using his influence improperly at the council, said “cronyism” had been at work in delaying the official lodging of the TPO and questioned the dedication of the Darlington Conservative Party to pursuing measures to tackle climate change.

Mr Robinson said: “As an aboriculturalist I know that by removing two-thirds of a tree with make it more dangerous. They have created a hazard.

“From a purely professional perspective this is as nearly as bad as it gets and the tree is irreversibly damaged.

“There is a duty on councillors to protect trees and that’s why TPOs are put onto trees.”

Mr Robinson said he would be lodging an official complaint with the authority’s standards department over the incident.

In response, Cllr Clarke dismissed claims he had used his political position improperly as “absolute rubbish”. He said: “I couldn’t influence the TPO process as it is an independent one.”

Cllr Clarke said the row had upset his wife and that the Green Party had “not done itself any favours” by criticising him for doing nothing wrong.

Darlington Borough Council has yet to respond about whether the process for a TPO had been launched.

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