Merton's missing street trees

27 Mar 2024
Empty tree pit

Merton residents may have to wait 11 years for lost street trees to be replaced, according to info uncovered by Liberal Democrat councillors.

In response to Liberal Democrat questions at last night's Sustainable Communities Panel it was confirmed that there are currently 2,753 vacant tree pits across Merton's roads and highways.

During a discussion of Merton's 'Tree strategy', councillors were told that it would take 11 years to fill the vacant tree pits "based on the current re-planting rate of circa 250 street trees replacements per year". Hopes were expressed that more money would be found to increase this re-planting rate.

Yet during debates over the Council's budget last November, Labour councillors blocked a Lib Dem recommendation asking the Council's Cabinet to "consider additional funding to accelerate the street trees programme".

At the meeting, Labour Council bosses admitted that part of the problem was that a Tree strategy has only recently been put in place. But in November 2020, Labour Council bosses voted down a Lib Dem proposal to prioritise a tree and biodiversity strategies.

In 2023, the Council launched a 'Trees for Streets' campaign which allows residents to pay £295 to sponsor a tree in their street, which one Labour councillor described last night as a "very good initiative". So far there have only been 80 requests, although some councillors queried how quickly the trees were planted.

Speaking after the meeting, Leader of Lib Dem councillors Anthony Fairclough said:

"It's hugely disappointing that this has not been prioritised. Not only do trees take carbon from the air but they provide shade, keeping our streets cooler in hot summers. They are key part of the Council's work on the climate emergency.

"They've been in power locally for about 30 years and only now do they really know the scale of the problem – and yet have consistently blocked proposals that might have speeded things up.

"Worryingly, it was also suggested a few times during the meeting that low "canopy cover" - area covered by trees from above - was mainly a problem in the east of the borough, which are the places represented by Labour councillors. In reality most of the borough is well below the London average. It's a problem for everyone.

"And now, it seems they would prefer it if people paid for their own trees."

Panel member and Raynes Park councillor, Cllr Victoria Wilson added: 

"Last year we asked the Panel to recommend increasing funding in the Council's budget to replace street trees faster. Regrettably Labour councillors voted against asking the Cabinet even to consider this. 

"They say now that they are thinking about it, but it's unclear when or if extra funding will be found."

Notes