“Tory vandalism”: Plymouth chainsaw massacre row continues

The leadership of Plymouth City Council is coming under increasing pressure after instructing contractors to fell more than a hundred trees in Armada Way.

Environmentalist Chris Packham branded it “despicable vandalism.”

Paul Nero www.radioexe.co.uk

Council leader Richard Bingley issued an ‘executive order’ with little publicity on Tuesday, not long after a public consultation over the controversial plans ended.

The council wants to regenerate the city centre and plans to replace the felled trees with new semi-mature ones. Pit is spending £12.7 million to revamp Armada Way, with some of the money coming from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund for walking and cycling.

Last month, a protest group called Save the Trees of Armada Way, or Straw, got a stay of execution, but soon after that ended, the felling began. Security guards blocked off the highway once darkness fell, and the chainsaws went into action.

The council says it was best to chop the trees down at night for health and safety reasons. 

Save the Trees got a High Court injunction, which was served on contractors at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, but only 15 trees were saved.

At 1am the local campaign to save the trees, Straw, obtained an injunction that halted the felling and saved 15 trees. They vow to continue their fight.

Alison White, of Straw said the council has “needlessly chopped down healthy mature trees. The people of Plymouth could not have made their views clearer that they were against this. It is a disgrace.”

Luke Pollard, the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “It’s a scene of environmental devastation and utter council vandalism.

“I’m appalled at the actions of the Tory council. Sad day for our city.”

The Woodland Trust said it was “appalled” at the use of “secretive night-time operations”. “We hoped after direct conversations with Plymouth City Council that a far higher proportion of trees could have been retained,” they said.

Rash, bang, wallop – Croydon and Thurrock councils put into special measures

Two local authorities have been put into special measures after struggling to recover from the bad investments and governance failings that pushed them into effective bankruptcy.

Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com

The London borough of Croydon and Thurrock borough council in Essex have been told that government-appointed managers will take over the day-to-day running of operations, including overseeing all major financial and senior staffing decisions.

The local government minister, Lee Rowley, also raised concerns about the post-bankruptcy progress of a third council, Slough, which he said showed “an unacceptable lack of urgency and focus … to resolve the situation it has placed itself in”.

The stepping up of government intervention at Thurrock and Croydon takes place against a backdrop of wider financial fragility in local authorities in England, which are desperately cutting services while putting up council tax and parking fees in an effort to remain financially solvent. About 12 councils are thought to be on the edge of effective bankruptcy.

Although Croydon and Thurrock were already being partially overseen by independent commissioners, ministers have been frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of recovery. The councils must make huge cuts to services and sell off assets to help bridge financial deficits running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Croydon and Thurrock have set record council tax bills from April, putting them up by 15% and 10% respectively at a time when the typical council tax uprating in England for a council of their size is 5%.

The Tory-run Thurrock council declared effective bankruptcy just before Christmas after running up an unprecedented deficit when a series of risky investments in solar farms and other businesses turned sour. The resulting £500m hole in its finances is one of the biggest ever financial disasters in local government.

An interim report from inspectors identified a range of serious shortcomings in the management and governance of Thurrock. It criticised the council’s leadership for “unconscious incompetence” – a state brought on by endemic complacency, secrecy and a failure to properly scrutinise decisions.

Thurrock has a financial deficit this year of £470m, a long-term structural shortfall of £184m and debts of £1.3bn. As a consequence, the inspectors said the council was “equipped to do little more than a minimum level of [service] provision for the foreseeable future, if indeed they can continue [to provide services] at all”.

A final inspectors’ report on Thurrock was delayed after commissioners said they needed more time to unravel the scale of the corporate and financial failure. It is expected to be published imminently.

Homelessness cash under threat

Devon County Council may cut £1.5 million

Rob Kershaw, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Councillors in North Devon have criticised plans to withdraw the homelessness prevention fund. Devon County Council recently confirmed that it is considering stopping its £1.5 million a year grant to district councils in the county as it can no longer afford it.

The council is currently consulting the public about the proposed service cut, which coincides with a recent increase in council tax.
The money goes towards housing rough sleepers at managed living hostels. Around 250 people currently benefit from it at any given time.

Over 100 more people receive support from Sanctuary Supported Living’s countywide ‘floating’ service. Just under three quarters of a million pounds from that scheme helps households avoid homelessness.

Devon County Council gives £112,000 of the grant to North Devon District Council to house people at The Maples hostel in Barnstaple, which has nine beds. North Devon Councils’ response to the consultation will ask the county authority to continue paying the grant.

Liberal Democrat council leader, Cllr David Worden, representing South Molton, is concerned. “This is something that will come back on us if it is actually closed,” he said at a full council meeting.

We need to actually get them [Devon County Council] to understand that this is a service that really needs to continue. Vulnerable people will be suffering as a result of this, and this council will have to try and pick up the pieces.”

Cllr Worden’s Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Helen Walker (Bickington) said the subsequent loss of drugs and alcohol specialists would be “disastrous,” while Green Party Cllr Netti Pearson (Ilfracombe) urged her colleagues to respond to the consultation to try to protect the service.