Parish council to discuss tree

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STEYNING Parish Council are to discuss and vote on controversial plans to chop down a sycamore tree tonight (Monday).

A Steyning man is threatening to call a vote of no confidence in the town’s parish council if a sycamore tree is felled on the Memorial Playing Fields.

John Catchpole says ‘people in Steyning are furious’ about plans to chop down the tree, as requested by Steyning Tennis Club.

It claims pigeons roosting in the branches pose a health and safety risk, as their droppings smear and damage the surface of a new £50,000 court under them.

Councillors are expected to agree to the felling at a meeting on Monday, but campaigners are ‘up in arms’ about the destruction of a ‘perfectly healthy tree’.

Mr Catchpole, of South Ash, Steyning told the County Times he is calling for a parish poll, asking those in the town to vote on the matter.

In the meantime he wants any decision to be put on hold.

He said: “The parish council are mere custodians of the field. There should be a public consultation. Councillors are servants of the people, not the masters.”

To prove the point, Mr Catchpole wants ten Steyning electors to convene a parish meeting, at which he will again use the power of ten to call for a parish poll, questioning the proposal to axe the sycamore.

He added: “If for any reason the tree is felled before such a ballot is carried out, the parish poll will still take place, but the question will be changed to a vote of no confidence in the parish council.”

Mr Catchpole added he would have a clear conscience over the estimated £4000 cost of a poll, as it would be in the interests of democracy.

However, the parish council chairman David Barling refutes the need for a public vote, saying the issue had been looked at in depth.

The council’s playing fields committee has twice agreed the tree should be allowed to be cut down, whilst the tennis court has pledged to replace it with three others, and more landscaping.

Mr Barling said: “The council is responding to health and safety concerns raised by the tennis club and its members, and we would be negligent if we ignored these concerns.”

In response to criticism residents feel disenfranchised, the chairman added: “We can’t possibly consult on everything we do. This is getting disproportionate.”

Last week, Judith Millward and Maureen Hemming, neighbours in Mill Road, placed a ‘RIP’ sign on the endangered tree.

“We do not want to see a beautiful, healthy tree replaced,” said Judith, “they should have thought about this before.”

Speaking on behalf of the tennis club, Richard Moore said he too did not want to see trees taken down, but there was no choice.

He said: “We built the court to keep the tree in position, but unbeknown to everybody, a lot of pigeons roost in it.

“As you scrape off the droppings, pieces of the court also come off.

“Mainly, it is because it is a slip hazard. We have 100 members and 70 juniors, and have a duty of care to them.”

He added that cleaning the droppings was not practical, due to high level of usage the court attracts.

The full parish council will vote on the matter at its meeting at the Steyning Centre, Fletchers Croft, on Monday October 10 from 7.30pm.

Mr Catchpole is confident that ‘with anger growing at a pace of knots’ amongst local residents, he and his fellow campaigners will muster the 10 accentors needed to convene a parish meeting – the first stage to calling a parish poll.