The joy of trees

Across London, hundreds of thousands of trees line our streets, breathing life into busy and polluted neighbourhoods.

Street trees are vital to our cities, providing beauty as well as major health benefits. Research suggests that improving access to green spaces could save the NHS over £2 billion per year by reducing health conditions such as heart disease and depression. During lockdown, it was a joy to hear birdsong that would usually be drowned out by the sound of car engines.

Trees at risk

Yet so many trees in Hornsey and Wood Green and across the UK are at risk of being felled and the Government isn’t doing enough to protect them. It’s hardly surprising when the Tories are failing to meet their own inadequate tree planting targets.

In 2019-20, they delivered less than half their target of new trees in England. Friends of the Earth reports that 45% of neighbourhoods in England have less than 10% tree canopy cover, and areas with higher social deprivation are likely to have fewer trees than wealthy areas.

The insurance threat

In our cities, a major threat comes from insurance companies forcing healthy trees to be felled by councils when a nearby property has subsidence. Rather than looking into more sustainable solutions such as underpinning the house, insurance companies go for the cheapest option and push the cost of the works onto the council if they refuse to remove the tree.

This is a particular problem in hilly Hornsey and Wood Green, where the clay soil most houses are built on has been affected by the severe droughts we have experienced for the past few summers. Heatwaves will become more frequent as the climate crisis worsens, putting thousands more trees at risk if the Government doesn’t act.

In parliament

As an active member of the All-Party Group for Woods and Trees, I’ve been working closely with the Woodland Trust to push for further mature tree protections, and I’ve raised countless Parliamentary Questions.

Current legislation doesn’t go far enough to redress the imbalance of power, yet when I wrote to the minister for Natural Environment & Land Use to urge specific guidance for the insurance industry and local councils on managing subsidence claims, frustratingly she refused to act. That’s why I’m pleased to have been granted a Parliamentary debate on 10 May where I’ll put these questions to the Government again.

They must act now to protect our beloved street trees.

Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.