Brighton & Hove’s world famous Green Party’s credibility is on the brink of ruination because of a decision by the local city council, run by them, to fell one of the most beloved trees in the Seven Dials area. No councillors have made themselves available for public comment. Not even the two ward councillors for the area, Jason and Ania Kitcat, despite the former being the Leader of the Council.
The facts are straightforward. The nearby roundabout has been a disgrace of traffic management for decades. The Greens have been the first political party with the balls to sort it out. They have brought forward plans to reorganise the roundabout to the benefit of pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. There has been an extensive consultation, which the local residents participated en masse in. Unfortunately, along the way, a decision has been taken to fell this ‘troublesome elm’. Every part of the official correspondence which I have seen makes the decision look like it was taken by a council officer and then nodded through by the politicians. That such a big decision was taken so late on in the consultative process, so that most of the people originally consulted had no idea that it was being considered, begs the question of whether the consultation process was fundamentally flawed. (The wider question of whether long consultation processes are counterproductive is one I’ll leave to another day.)
Yesterday evening I spoke with an expert arboriculturalist about whether the tree could be saved as part of the redesign of the local area. In summary, the answer was a firm ‘yes’. Issues relating to sight lines for motorists approaching the pedestrian crossing to the South of the tree can be rectified by the crossing being moved a little farther away from the roundabout. Issues relating to the surface disruption caused by the trees massive roots can be rectified by various fairly simple technical solutions, which appear to be outside the normal ambit of the heavily regularised work of highways engineers. The tree is thought to be about 120 years old and can be preserved for another 10-20 years at least. I’ve requested a detailed description of the works needed and, when I receive it, I will publish it. The other reasons given for the felling have no legs ~ they cannot stand up.
A couple of days ago local residents discovered a notice pinned to the tree informing them that it would be felled this week. Immediately they organised themselves into a defence campaign: the Seven Dials Save Our Tree Action Group (@SaveOurTree on twitter). By last night they had gathered 500 signatures and presented their petition to the chair of the council’s Transport Committee. Significantly, one of the signatories was Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP, Caroline Lucas. Here’s what she had to say on the subject.
The local Tories and the Labour Party will lap this story up. Unable to make any sensible policy proposals of their own, they rely on negative campaigning against the Greens. The truth is that neither the Tories nor the local Labour Party members are permitted to express themselves at all, let alone as freely I am doing here (I’m a member of the Green Party). Not only does the local Labour Party not have any channels for daily communication amongst its membership as we do, it doesn’t even have monthly meetings! It is tiny, heavily controlled from the top and unable to tolerate dissent. Most of the local Tories appear unable to finish whatever sentence they start. They are, as with the rest of their party, suffering from a chronic ageing problem. Dementia is setting in.
That said, Green Party insiders are incredulous at the manner in which the political leadership of the council has potentially converted what was clearly a massive success story for the Greens into a howling blunder and a gift for the right-wing media. It is the eleventh hour. This tree can still be saved but not without loss of face for Jason Kitcat, the Council Leader.
Fiercely protective of the Green Party though I am, by the time you read this post, I shall be either up the elm or at its foot with others up in its higher branches, because this particular tree means more to me than Jason Kitcat’s personal prowess. The time has come for him to find a way to step down from his post and let someone else, someone with a good grip on green politics, someone with the backing of the local party, someone who can be trusted, to take over. If he can’t, he will be forced out, before the end of the year. We Greens have good form for recycling our people in and out of political office. There’s no shame in it.
The tree lessons Mr Kitcat needs to learn are as follows. One, us Greens are more driven by loyalty to our cause, than our party leadership. Two, trees are crucial to protecting the environment and much more loved by people than he is. His being the silent ward councillor for this tree’s loyal supporters has damned him. Three, he can leave office without loss of face if he takes that option but if he fights for his personal prestige, he risks de-selection from his candidature at the next election. The numbers are now against him.