Sunderland councillors clash over state of ‘£180,000’ boulevard trees

Trees on St Mary's Way, Sunderland.
Trees on St Mary's Way, Sunderland.
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Councillors have clashed over the state of trees which were bought and planted in a Sunderland city centre regeneration area at a cost of £180,000.

Conservatives on Wearside claim that the 58 mature trees which were imported from Holland and planted in St Mary’s Way are in a “poor state”.

Coun Mel Speding.

Coun Mel Speding.

The greenery was put in place two years ago as part of the £11.8million re-alignment programme for the area, which also saw work carried out to create Keel Square, next to Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

The mature trees – which are up to 20 years old – include cherry, maple, lime, plane, sweet gum and dawn redwood.

Council chiefs have however hit back at the claim, saying the Conservatives have “selective memories” and that no UK nursery was able to supply those kind of trees.

Tory leader on the council, Coun Peter Wood, who criticised the initial decision to import the trees and plant them back in 2014, today told the Echo: “A few days ago, with my deputy Michael Dixon, I walked the length of St Mary’s Boulevard to inspect those trees.

£180,000 is a lot of money. It would cut a lot of grass or clear a lot of litter. The question must be asked - was this good value for money?”

Coun Peter Wood

“Nineteen - more than a third - looked to be in poor shape, with little foliage and posing the question “are they are still alive?”

Coun Wood added: “£180,000 is a lot of money.

“It would cut a lot of grass or clear a lot of litter.

“The question must be asked - was this good value for money?

Councillor Peter Wood.

Councillor Peter Wood.

“In St Michael’s ward we managed to purchase and plant, in grass verges, 30 home grown saplings last year for the cost of just one in St Mary’s Boulevard.”

In response to the criticism, the council’s cabinet secretary, Coun Mel Speding, said: “I accept that Couns Wood and Dixon are men of many, many talents and while arboriculture is clearly not one of their stronger areas of expertise, it is obvious that hypocrisy and selective memory are.

“Some of the trees have been late-budding as they re-establish themselves following the stresses of transplantation, there are no dead trees along the boulevard and if they did fail they would be replaced under the terms of the contract.

“Couns Wood and Dixon might also want to remind themselves that the costs of purchasing and planting semi-mature 20-year-old trees included survey works, ground anchoring structures, grilles and irrigation systems.

Trees on St Mary's Way, Sunderland.

Trees on St Mary's Way, Sunderland.

“All these works bear no comparison to purchasing and planting a handful of feather (feathered whip) varieties in open ground with a spade.

“And, when the council looked at tendering and specifying the best for this scheme the contractor found that no UK nursery was able to supply trees of this size or age.

“The trees along St Mary’s are part of a high-quality and well-designed scheme helping to enhance, improve and attract more investment in our city centre.

“Perhaps Couns Wood and Dixon could go against their collective mind set and offer their support and encouragement to the city instead of rubbishing it at each and every opportunity.

“It would be good, too, if Couns Wood and Dixon recognised how it is their Government that has and continues, for ideological reasons, to savage this council’s budgets by cutting more than £240million in the last six years.”