FRUSTRATED residents upset at plans to fell trees in Hamp Green Rise were given the chance to quiz Somerset County Council chiefs.

The matter became the key topic at Bridgwater Town Council's Town Development Forum held at the Town Hall on Tuesday night.

Karin Harwood, Somerset County Council's service manager for engineering programmes was joined by Highways arboriculturalist Ben Cole to give a presentation on County Council tree policy and take questions.

The issue arose after it emerged Somerset County Council plans to remove five cherry trees in Hamp Green Rise for health and safety reasons.

Mr Cole explained that the five trees in question had been inspected and deemed as being a risk to the public as they were dying or diseased.

"The trees have Ganoderma Australe, a form of white rot that decays stems and roots," Mr Cole told the meeting.

"Despite the fact there is a good blossom on some of the trees, there is evident degradation."

He said they will be removed within the next two months.

He also said the other trees in the street would likely have to be removed at some point too, saying while it was difficult to estimate when that would be, his 'prognosis would not be good'.

Mr Cole said pruning the trees would likely hasten their demise, and that it was not viable from a practical or financial perspective to prop the trees up.

However the council officers came under fire after saying Somerset County Council did not currently have a policy to replace trees it was removing for health and safety reasons.

Ms Harwood said Somerset County Council had a budget of £93,000 to maintain highway trees, of which there are 21,041 in Somerset, and 5,267 of those are in Sedgemoor.

Ms Harwood said the policy was currently being looked at but could not comment as to how it may change when the new draft is complete.

However Bridgwater Town Council's portfolio holder for climate change Cllr Li Gibson described the policy as 'negligent'.

"Somerset County Council is among the many councils that has declared a climate emergency," Cllr Gibson said.

"But what does that mean? It just seems to be words if there is no policy to replace trees."

Cllr Kathy Pearce said she felt feelings were so high because these were some of the last cherry trees left in Bridgwater.

"We are at a sea change in thinking," Cllr Pearce said. "The climate needs to be a priority and I hope the council's policy will change."

Karin Harwood did say that while Somerset County Council could not replace the trees, if the town council or district council could find funding to replace them, Somerset County Council would take over responsibility for their maintenance after one year.

At the meetings conclusion, Ms Harwood said she would speak to the county council officer responsible for liaising with Hinkley C to see if this was a project that EDF community impact mitigation funding might be used for as it was so close to the power station's HGV route.

A total of 10 recommendations were taken forward from the meeting including Bridgwater Town Council investigating how replacement trees could be funded, lobbying Somerset County Council to make sure BTC was recognised as a key consultee for major tree actions in the town, and exert pressure for the SCC replacement trees policy to be brought more in line with the climate emergency declared.