A view of one of the trees.

Green Party calls for tree policy in wake of Athlone tree dispute

A campaign to save four mature trees in Athlone which are threatened with removal has led to a call for a tree policy to be put in place by Westmeath County Council.

Cllr Louise Heavin will table a motion before the November meeting of the council requesting that a comprehensive tree survey to be carried out on all mature trees in towns and villages across the county, and that a tree policy for the county be put in place.

The motion comes in the wake of an application from the management of Athlone Town Centre to Westmeath County Council to have four mature trees removed from an area located to the eastern entrance of the shopping centre.

The removal of the trees was recommended on foot of a report prepared last year on behalf of Athlone Town Centre by a professional consulting tree service, Arbor-Care Ltd.

However, local resident, Karen Byrne, who lives at 1 Fairview Terrace, has lodged an objection to the plan and is vigorously opposed to the removal of any trees to the eastern entrance of the shopping centre.

In her complaint to Westmeath County Council Ms. Byrne claims that the trees under threat of removal “have a vital function” for her property as they "screen noise from neighbouring apartments and also visually hide them."

She also claims they "provide security as they obstruct the view of the empty laneway behind the properties along Fair View and Garden Vale thus deterring antisocial activity there."

Ms Byrne says the trees have been in place since the 1970s and that a huge variety of birds have a habitat within them, and she further claims that the trees are protected under existing planning laws.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent on Monday, Karen Byrne says she is "very passionate" about saving the trees.

"There is a huge amount of wildlife living in these trees and the one mature beech tree that is earmarked for removal is screening the apartments behind my property and I am completely against any bid to have any of these trees removed, it is a matter of principle at this stage," she said.

Cllr Louise Heavin is backing the call to save the disputed trees, and has written to the Office of the Planning Regulator to see if there is any appeal mechanism available to Ms Byrne against the plan to have the trees removed.

She argues that the removal of the trees contravenes planning conditions granted for the construction of Athlone Town Centre which states that “13 No. mature trees shall be retained” in accordance with the Environmental Impact Statement and “in the interest of conservation of wildlife.”

However, the Head of Operations at Athlone Town Centre engaged the services of a specialist arborist to carry out a survey of these trees due to safety concerns and complaints from some neighbouring residents regarding structural damage from the trees.

The arborist examined 15 trees in total, and concluded that seven trees should be "removed to ground level" with four of those seven deemed to have "outgrown its living space and is no longer viable for retention."

Westmeath County Council states that while "all conditions" of a planning grant are required to be complied with "where there is a risk to public health and safety then an Arborist should be engaged to assess the trees and to identify the level of risk and where the level of risk is such that the hazard cannot be mitigated by maintenance/management of the trees then the Arborist Report should clearly set out what action is required to be taken to ensure public safety."