24 March 2023
Yes. Our position has been that the city centre could have been improved and updated without the removal of such a large number of mature trees. We made our view on the scheme clear to the Conservative administration.
We called for a pause of the project and for the Council to undertake further consultation on a complex project, which we felt needed to incorporate more of the existing trees into a design. The original and modified designs failed to do this.
The results of the community engagement revealed that a majority of respondents that felt that the scheme didn’t ‘strike the right balance’ – i.e. did not take into consideration the saving of existing trees.
Under our council’s constitution, ‘public realm’ improvements like the Armada Way scheme are decided by the Leader and their cabinet. There is not a way for opposition parties to overrule the decision of a leader’s ‘executive order’.
There was no vote ‘for or against the cutting down of the trees’. No councillors had the opportunity to vote to block the tree felling. This is because in our Council constitution this type of decision is made solely by the Leader and their cabinet using 'executive powers'.
There are rumours online relating to a motion by the Independent Alliance at the January council meeting.
Their motion “requested” the Conservative cabinet “review” the scheme with a view to keeping more trees. These words really matter here. Whilst this sounds good, the reality is that the motion could not have blocked the felling, as the Conservative cabinet could have simply met for a few minutes, 'reviewed' and decided to carry on as they wished, or ignored the request all together. We agree with the sentiment behind the motion but abstained as it could not meaningfully achieve anything to protect the trees.
At that meeting, we had already successfully pushed for the Conservatives to pause the scheme to deliver a ‘meaningful public engagement’, so by the time it was discussed, the Independent Alliance motion had become redundant anyway.
We pressed for further public engagement as we hoped that public pressure might change the Conservative leader’s decision, sadly it did not. Frustrating as it is, there were no other mechanisms available to us to stop the felling.
Responsibility for the decision to fell the trees sits solely with the Conservative Leader and their cabinet. That's why we called a ‘no confidence’ motion in the leader, as we feel they’ve made serious errors of judgment.
We also believe the use of 'executive powers' needs to be curbed, as we believe too much power sits with just one leader and their hand-picked cabinet.
When we speak with residents, we’re told often that what people value from their elected councillors is action, not words - a councillor’s job is to get things done. This is a guiding principle for our councillors. We abstained (rather than voted against) the Alliance motion because although we agreed with the sentiment, it couldn’t stop the felling. We could have supported the motion to make ourselves ‘look good’, but we wouldn’t have been true to our principles.
Many of the councillors in the Independent Alliance are experienced and know the council constitution very well. It seems hard to imagine they didn’t know their motion would not stop the felling, so it is worth asking why they have continued to publicly claim this to be the case.
No, council rules require a total of 10 Councillors to call an EGM. The Greens have 3 councillors. The Labour group could have called an EGM about the scheme, but did not do so.
No Green councillors have ever voted in favour of the Armada Way scheme.
Yes - we want to see a thriving city centre that everyone can be proud of. We feel that this could have been achieved without removing so many of the existing trees.
Green councillor Ian Poyser was there on site the night of the felling with campaigners until 1am: “I was watching in horror as the trees were felled, it was very upsetting and has personally affected me”.
We honestly did not believe it was possible that the leader of the council would act so recklessly and irrationally - lesson learned, we need to be more vigilant!
This incident highlights the much wider problem of how, in our council, disproportionate power sits with the council leader to make decisions using ‘executive powers’.
We believe that moving to a committee system of Local Government as recently introduced in Sheffield, where all councillors are involved in making the big decisions, would give the people of Plymouth a better, and more democratic and accountable Council.
We have called for an independent inquiry into how this project was handled, and for the creation of a ‘Tree Panel’ that could act as a consultative forum in the future to ensure decisions around the city’s trees are more thoroughly considered.
Green councillor Lauren McLay has proposed a motion detailing our proposals to be discussed at Council on 27th March.
In the same meeting, we will also ask councillors to back our motion Urging the UK Government to Provide Additional Funds and Support to Help Plymouth Achieve Its Net Zero 2030 Target PDF 60 KB
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