Council leader quits after ordering midnight felling of 110 trees
The Tory council leader that oversaw the felling of more than 100 trees in Plymouth has quit following an outcry over the operation.
Councillor Richard Bingley was facing a vote of no confidence next Monday over his decision to approve the felling of 110 trees in the city centre under cover of darkness last week in an act labelled “environmental vandalism”.
Instead he said he would step aside from his role as leader of Plymouth City Council.
Mr Bingley said: “I’ve always said I’m not a full-time politician, I don’t seek to be, I’m just an individual who is passionate and ambitious for Plymouth.
“If others feel they can run our glorious Ocean City better, then that’s great with me. ‘Over to you,’ I say.”
Plymouth City Council removed 110 trees in an operation that began at 1am last Wednesday morning to make way for a £12.7 million redevelopment of Armada Way, despite significant local opposition.
Luke Pollard, the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said on Wednesday that Mr Bingley had “no option but to resign” after his “disastrous handling” of the tree felling.
“Felling over 100 trees without proper public consultation was an act of environmental vandalism,” Mr Pollard said.
The project was also criticised by the Woodland Trust, which said it was “appalled to see the scale of tree felling in Plymouth city centre and the use of secretive night-time operations to do this”.
Local campaigners secured a last minute injunction to stop the felling of the remaining 16 trees once they heard the operation was under way, and are now seeking a judicial review into the decision-making process.
Council seeking to lift injunction
Plymouth City Council said last week it would seek to have the injunction lifted at a hearing this Friday.
The council originally defended its decision to go ahead with the project to “transform this tired and dated city centre route”.
Shortly before the trees were felled, Mr Bingley signed a decision to press ahead which warned there was a risk of losing government funding for the project if it was “not implemented quickly”.
Mr Bingley, who only took over as Tory leader a year ago in March 2022, had insisted the felling was right because it would create a “wonderful tree lined zone whereby businesses and cafes and people feel safe”.
The felling project came amid acrimony over the development among different factions within the council, which is on a knife-edge after several Conservative defections.
Mr Bingley did not give a specific reason for his resignation on Wednesday. But he said: “I urge my successors not to sink back into petty party political infighting as that sad tendency has held back our city for so many years in the past.
“When good people see that, they soon politely walk away.”
Johnny Mercer, the Tory MP for nearby Plymouth Moor, last week urged “all sides to lower the rhetoric”.
“We don’t have any ‘monsters’ working for the local authority; neither is this ‘devastation on an Amazonian scale’,” he said. “It makes us look ridiculous. But please behave courteously and with respect to all sides.”
The controversy came a week after an dependent inquiry into a major tree felling operation in Sheffield, which criticised Sheffield City Council’s “dishonest behaviour”.