Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 16 Mar 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s decision not to fell a tree at the back of the complainant’s garden. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, disagrees with the Council’s decision not to remove a tree at the back of his garden.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I considered email exchanges between Mr X and the Council and looked at photographs of the tree provided by Mr X. I considered comments Mr X made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The policy is to increase the city’s tree canopy. The Council will resist the removal of trees and will only prune a tree if there are signs of decay or defects, or to keep the highway clear of obstructions.
- There were a group of trees at the back of Mr X’s garden. They were in a conversation area and covered by a group Tree Preservation Order (TPO). The Council removed some of the trees because there were Health and Safety issues.
- The Council did not remove a tree which overhangs Mr X’s garden. The tree is covered by the group TPO. Mr X asked the Council to remove the tree. He is worried it will fall on his house and says branches fall into his garden. He says the tree makes the garden path slippery and prevents him from benefiting from a south facing garden. He says it is unfair that his garden is the only one that still has a tree at the end of it.
- Tree officers from the Council and the Forestry Commission inspected the tree. They found no evidence of any defects or decay. They recommended a general maintenance prune that has been completed. The Council told Mr X it would not do any further work, or remove the tree, because there are no Health and Safety issues and no reason to remove it. It explained that it is committed to retaining trees across the city. It said it would continue to monitor the tree but would not do any further work unless defects are found.
- Mr X accepts the tree is healthy but says the Council has ignored his concerns about the impact the tree has on his house and garden. The pruning only removed the lower branches. Mr X wants the Council to remove the tree.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council. The policy says the Council will resist removing trees and will only do tree work if there are defects or a Health and Safety issue. The Council has inspected the tree and found no Health and Safety issues. It did, however, do a general prune. The Council’s decision is consistent with the policy and it is not fault for the Council to follow the professional judgement of qualified tree officers. We do not act as appeal body and cannot intervene because a council makes a decision that someone disagrees with. And we cannot ask a council to do something which would be against the policy and contrary to the opinion of tree officers.
- Mr X says many trees have been felled or pruned recently and he just wants one tree felled or pruned. However, each tree is assessed in terms of its condition and in relation to the tree policy. The fact that other trees have been removed does not mean there are reasons, under the policy, to remove the tree near to Mr X’s garden.
- Mr X says branches fell in the recent high winds. I do not doubt what Mr X says but this does not alter the fact that tree officers have judged the tree to be safe. If Mr X thinks the tree has been damaged he could ask for a new inspection. However, the Council would only do work if tree officers found work was needed under the terms of the tree policy.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman