The Camden New Journal has this week published the below letter from me about the woeful performance of Camden’s trees department.
I was astonished to read the revisions to Camden’s Clean Air Plan, including the gratuitous addition of a whole page arguing that trees are bad for air quality.
Yes, that’s right. Trees. Bad. For air quality.
In writing this new section, Camden’s administration outsourced its entire thinking to a single study, which it then proceeded to misquote.
Although it is true the study says that trees can ‘lock in’ some pollution, it states that the positive effects outweigh the negative over an area larger than “tens to hundreds of square metres”, i.e. an area much smaller than a London borough.
This qualification has been mysteriously edited out, but it is vital. The author cited by the Council wrote another paper that found that across cities the size of Camden, trees reduce air pollution by 9%.
Other studies find that the reduction is up to 24%. So trees are no silver bullet, but this reduction is not to be sniffed at or dismissed, as Camden’s Clean Air Plan does.
Perhaps the reason they’ve been dismissed is Camden’s poor record on tree maintenance. Camden has fewer street trees, chops down more street trees per year, and has weaker benchmarking of tree maintenance standards than any of Westminster, Islington, and Hackney.
And despite having a worse record than these comparator boroughs, Camden has the largest tree maintenance budget of the four councils, too.
To write a page on how trees cause pollution shows how much of this Clean Air Plan is bogged down in defensively claiming everything the council does it perfect, rather than addressing what it could do better.
It’s vital that Camden takes greater care of our trees, and spends less time making excuses for not doing so.