A leading environmentalist came to South Tyneside yesterday to get to the root of a tree problem.
Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack was quick to throw her weight behind a protest campaign to stop trees being felled by the council.
She said it was not in the interests of the community or the environment to see dozens of trees uprooted from the borough’s streets.
Ms Womack, 33, toured parts of South Shields at the invitation of South Tyneside Tree Action Group (STTAG).
The newly formed organisation has criticised South Tyneside Council for removing some trees as part of ongoing pavement work.
STAGG claims 173 street trees have been lost unnecessarily due to the council’s Flags to Flexible initiative.
Under it, some trees are being removed so that paving slabs can be replaced with Tarmac surfaces.
The council claims it is only removing trees as a last resort and says the project will protect the public from tripping over pavements loosened by roots.
But Ms Womack said: “What we are seeing is people getting very angry about what is happening to trees.
“The council has a very short sighted policy, it’s a policy that isn’t benefitting communities, it is not looking at the interests of residents. We are seeing tree felling across the country and the reality is that it is all about saving money – the excuses for it don’t justify the means.
South Tyneside Council said it considers its environmental responsibility with the utmost importance.
A spokesman added: “Where we carry out footpath replacement works, in some areas is it necessary to carry out a full upgrade due to ongoing footpath damage from tree root disturbance.
“Regrettably, in some cases, it is not always possible to retain the trees due to their size, the extent of their roots and their condition.
“Before work gets underway in any particular area, we write to the residents affected.
“While the loss of any tree is sad, in such circumstances, the works are necessary to ensure the safety of pedestrians and to reduce the risk of injury.
“We would like to stress that we only ever remove trees as a last resort after very careful consideration. In line with our policy, for every tree removed, we plant like for like in the local area.
“We are aware of some of the additional issues raised by South Tyneside Tree Action Group and would be happy to discuss this in more detail with them direct.”