Urban Trees and Insurance 3.12.2010


 I’ve been trying to work out for a year now what motivates a government body to doggedly plan (excuse the split infinitive) the removal of huge, stunning, loved and valuable trees. It seems similar questions are being asked in cities all over the world.

I presume we have insurance companies to blame, along with the fear they inspire in what pass for hearts beating in the breasts of local government managers.

Just as journalists self-censor, so do bureaucrats exaggerate risk and the consequent measures taken to reduce it. You can tell a manager that the likelihood of being killed by a street tree in Australia is only 1 in 8 million but you won’t make a dent in their desire to replace, for example, Hill’s figs with pear trees.

(Similarly, you can have a discussion about how important it is to avoid root damage to maintain tree stability – they will even point to Past Practices Now Discredited that do this – and yet their maintenance crews will still be allowed to cut roots to straighten curbs and gutters. Explain that to me.)

In London, a study examined the loss of large urban trees over recent years: ‘Chainsaw massacre: a review of London’s street trees’ (1.5MB). While we in Newcastle have increased our tree canopy at an apparently greater rate than London has, a lot of the report rings true for Newcastle. The following is from the report’s preface; the emphasis is mine.




‘London Planes, Japanese Cherry, even Silver Birch; trees offset the concrete mass of the city sprawl and frame our houses, offices and shops. Trees are the mark of good urban planning with well-established broad leaf trees offering cool shade in the summer and soaking up rainwater during the rest of the year. Crucially,they are our first line of defence in the fight against global warming as broad leaf trees absorb carbon, preventing its harmful release into the wider atmosphere.

‘Despite their obvious advantages however, our broadleaf street trees are under severe threat. The London Assembly Environment Committee has investigated the extent to which some species of trees are being lost on London’s streets.

‘Data collected from the boroughs shows that over the past five years 40,000 trees have been lost whilst 48,000 trees have been planted in London. However, there has been a net loss of street trees in a third of London Boroughs, particularly outer London boroughs… London has been losing its mature broad leaf tree stock, due largely to trends and practices to plant smaller trees which are easier and cheaper to maintain, limited budgets, subsidence claims from the insurance industry and a failure of the general public to support the extensive benefits of street trees.

‘Subsidence damage is often blamed on street trees, with some residents and insurance companies pressurising Councils to remove trees on the flimsiest of evidence. About 2,000 trees have been lost over the past five years because of insurance subsidence claims. We discovered that in some London Boroughs, such as Camden, Brent and Hackney, between 10%-40% of those trees removed every year are due to subsidence claims. The insurance industry must provide better quality investigations, ensuring that accurate and reliable tests are used in order to provide evidence showing that a tree is causing subsidence damage to a property. If they cannot provide the required evidence then they should not be requesting that the local authority remove the tree in question.’
Of course, we don’t dare mention infrastructure issues in Newcastle’s Laman Street, because apparently the Need to Remove the Trees there has nothing to do with either infrastructure damage or plans to put in new infrastructure; all we care about is Targets (that’s you and me) being injured…


In London the canopy cover is 20%, according to the report. In Newcastle our council has been quoted as saying that a 40% canopy cover is ideal. Before the large tree-planting efforts of the last year or so, the canopy cover here was estimated at just over 20%. Imagine how many pear trees we’re going to have to plant to reach our presumed goal? Cheers. Home








Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Urban Trees and Insurance 3.12.2010”

  1. chatty Says:

    I noticed today, that another street tree has been chopped to a stump in Bluegum Road, Jesmond. There is construction happening on the block it grew in front off,a disused service station.

    The tree gave shade to the VERY BUSY bus stop across the road from Jesmond Center. It will be a warm and ugly wait for a bus this summer!

  2. David Says:

    One of your best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: