THE council could spend up to £2m over the next five years to deal with diseased trees in Merthyr Tydfil.
An officer presentation to full council on Wednesday, June 16 gave information about the issues with ash dieback in the county borough which could cost £1.9m to deal with over that period.
This money will go towards extra tree surveying, felling and replacement planting and the extra costs of serving notices on private owners and dealing with private companies will be around £100,000.
Ash dieback is the most significant tree disease to affect the UK since the Dutch Elm disease and it has the potential to infect more than two billion trees across the UK and lead to the death of 90% of them.
It is predicted that ash dieback in the UK will cost £15 billion with £9 billion of this being down to the loss of ecosystem services that ash trees provide like improving air quality, mitigating the effects of climate change, the capture or removal of carbon from the atmosphere and the capture and slow release of rainwater.
Judith Jones, the council’s chief officer for planning and neighbourhood services, said in her presentation that it is a “major ongoing safety issue”
The five year management plan to mitigate the risks could cost up to £2m and this will include felling diseased trees, replanting and increased surveying to highlight issues and prioritise works.
She said the Ash Dieback Action Plan (ADAP) will prioritise risk so the highest risk will be trees along the highway and the next highest risk will be trees in schools and parks.
It also provides general management advice and considers the impact on the landscape, biodiversity, landowners, home-owners and infrastructure.
It also looks into the recovery, the financial implications and it follows plans published by Flintshire, Leicestershire and Kent councils.
The presentation said the main risks to the council are around health and safety, the economic risk, reputation damage and environmental impacts.
Inspections have shown that the worst affected areas in Merthyr Tydfil are the Vaynor ward, the Treharris ward and the northern boundary of the Gurnos ward.
At the moment the team tasked with dealing with these issues consists of a seconded tree officer and two arborists but with trees on private land the council needs resources to engage with owners.
Ms Jones said there’s likely to be more proposals for works to trees to the planning department and tree works adjacent to highways will need traffic management measures and will “inevitably lead to disruption.”
She also said tree contractors may be difficult to secure due to demand as every authority in the UK is suffering from this so the council may have to pay a premium to secure competent firms and from a trading standards point of view there is an opportunity here for “unscrupulous contractors.”
The council will also need resources for replanting to maintain biodiversity and mitigate the environmental effects
In terms of the cost to the council, 1,864 trees on adopted highway land were assessed at being of risk or showing symptoms of ash dieback with an overall cost of £682,560.
On council owned land, 849 trees (46%) were surveyed with a projected cost £301,640 to remedy them and on private owned land the figures were 978 trees (54%) at a cost of £380,920.
The council estimates dealing with ash dieback on trees in schools will be £100,000 over five years based on the number of schools in the county borough and Ms Jones said resurveying should happen annually which would cost £200 for each of the 28 schools over a five year period meaning this would cost £28,000 in total.
The council has surveyed all trees within Merthyr Tydfil and a method statement has been produced by the council’s ecologist to ensure they adhere to Environment Act 2016.
A tender is being prepared to outsource tree removal from A and B roads and costs and the availability of arborists is being looked into to decide whether other works are carried out in-house or outsourced.
Funding from the Welsh Government’s Green Recovery Fund has been used to buy equipment and address affected trees in Cyfarthfa Park.
The next steps the council is planning to take include is to increase public awareness so they understand why there will be disruption to the highway network and council services.
Another next step which was agreed later in the council meeting by councillors was to appoint a tree officer, currently on a secondment, on a permanent basis.
The council is looking to create an ash dieback management team to include the tree officer, ecologist, highways, the solicitor, communications, estates, finance, IT and the chief officer.
They are looking to continue to work with the South Wales Trunk Road Agent (SWTRA) and utilities companies and work with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) to lobby Welsh Government for funding for this.