Billericay residents are concerned about proposals to remove trees beside the railway
Andrew has written to Network Rail and the Forestry Commission following representations made by the Billericay Tree Wardens and others.
Worried local residents have been in touch, following receipt of letters from National Rail about their intention to remove some trees and vegetation along the Billericay trackside stretch of rail line. Network Rail have written to their 'railway neighbours' (residents whose properties abut the railway) informing them of their intention to remove overgrown trees and vegetation along the train tracks for safety reasons.
To be fair to Network Rail, they set out their reasoning in some detail, explaining the safety concerns, as well as the potential risks to people's properties but there were similar works undertaken by Network Rail in Billericay around three years ago, which caused much local concern at the time, and it is understandable that local residents do not want to see a repeat of what many felt was the disproportionate and heavy-handed tree felling that took place at that time. It is also important to understand why these works are having to be revisited so soon.
To that end, I have written to Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, seeking certain assurances. I have also asked Mr Haines to confirm whether a 'community meeting' will be taking place. First and foremost, of course, I fully accept that passenger safety, as well as the safety of rail staff and the proper maintenance of trains and track equipment, is the top priority. I have nevertheless sought assurance from Network Rail that they will not be adopting an over-zealous approach to tree-removal, to the detriment of our local environment.
I have also asked Network Rail to confirm that their works will take into account bird nesting season and that only reputable professional tree surgeons will be employed to undertake this work. Additionally, I have sought confirmation that any drone video surveillance will be complimented by proper surveys on the ground, undertaken by qualified arboriculturists.
Finally, their letter to residents talked about 'mitigation measures' in the form of new planting and I have asked what input the local community can have on new tree and shrub-planting.
I have already discussed this matter with the relevant officers at Basildon Borough Council but the remit for the local borough council in this matter is extremely limited. Network Rail have statutory powers to undertake such works and they have no actual recourse to Basildon Council. So it is not a matter over which we, as a council, have any direct control. Where they are felling a quantity of trees, however, they are required to apply for a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. As such, I have also written to Sir William Worsley, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, to seek some assurances from him that the Commission will exercise due diligence and scrutinise these proposals before granting Network Rail carte blanche.
I have also asked Sir William to advise on the position of the Commission in respect of works taking place during bird nesting season and also whether the Commission has any oversight on the types of professionals employed to undertake the works. We do not want a repeat of previous destruction.
I will, of course, endeavour to keep residents updated on developments. If anyone has any specific concerns or if you are directly affected by Network Rail's works, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have received the following response from Mr Jerry Daly, a manager at Network Rail. He reiterates the company's commitment biodiversity and good ecological management of their trackside trees and vegetation. He has also restated Network Rail's intention of holding a community meeting, so I will share further details of this when they are provided to me.
I have since also received a reply from Miss Julia Lovell at the Forestry Commission. She confirms that Network Rail have not applied for a felling licence but there can be exceptions where 'statutory undertakers' are carrying out necessary works. She is clear, however, that this is not a ‘carte blanche’ and works must be demonstrably necessary for safety purposes. As the Commission were unaware of the works, they will be visiting the site to assess Network Rail's proposal. If it is determined that a felling licence is required, this will include 'restocking conditions' to replace lost trees within a set period of time.
I am grateful to the Commission for looking into this matter for me and hope this provides some reassurance to affected residents.