Final protest as racecourse trees face axe

Protesters who staged a sit-in to stop council staff from felling trees in the centre of Doncaster Racecourse will mount a final protest on Monday morning after the changes were finally forced through.

Doncaster's controversial Mayor Peter Davies initially ordered around that 2,000 trees should be cut down on the site last March, but furious residents stood in the way of workers who came equipped with chainsaws, eventually winning the standoff.

Since then, the Mayor, who has a keen interest in horse racing, has been working to try and enforce his ruling, while a protest group called Friends of Doncaster Common (FODC) have attempted to block moves by the council.

Doncaster Racecourse is owned by the council and leased to private firm Arena Leisure. It takes up part of Doncaster Common, but the land inside the track is used as a golf course and also includes paths used by dog walkers.

Both the walkers and members of the Town Moor Golf Club have stated their opposition to the Mayor's plans and at the time the row broke out accused him of using his power at the council to benefit himself and fellow racegoers.

Negotiations and meetings have taken place, and Doncaster Council has drawn up a plan which apparently has the approval of the Forestry Commission, meaning council workers can now start cutting down trees.

It is expected that work will begin early on Monday morning, and the original campaigners said they would again be in attendance, but would be unlikely to stage another sit in unless there was deviation from the agreed plan.

John Anderson, a member of FODC, said one of the major questions which had gone unanswered about the scheme was why it was thought necessary to cut down trees at huge cost, when Doncaster Council was facing huge budget cuts.

Mr Anderson said: "What the groups that raised objections to Peter Davies's destructive plans have achieved, is to make Doncaster Council accountable for its actions.

"The protest has saved some trees and should ensure that some replanting and regeneration will take place in a structured way with Natural England and the Forestry Commission overseeing the work.

"The questions still remain as to the cost of the work, be it in man hours, felling and replanting and survey work already carried out.

"Why has this work been given priority, at a huge cost to the local taxpayer, when local services and the jobs of hundreds of council employees have been axed in an effort to save money?"

Mr Davies was unavailable for comment yesterday and a spokesman for Doncaster Council said he was the only person who could answer questions as to why the work had been prioritised for council spending.

But he said: "The works will largely be undertaken and maintained by Doncaster Council's arboricultural teams meaning that labour costs will be absorbed as we are using our existing workforce. We are not envisaging using outside contractors at this time.

"It will be difficult to estimate actual labour costs until we have a more accurate idea of how long the works will take.

"The topography survey cost was 9,450 and the value of tree works was 4,500. The racecourse is paying the 4,500 for the tree work and is making a contribution of 7,500 to the topography survey.

"The council is paying the remaining 1,950. The provision of restoration materials including plants, seed, trees and so on for last year's and this year's work will be about 5,400.

"Any future costs will be dependant on the effectiveness of the natural regeneration process and will be regularly reviewed over the course of the life of the management plan."

The spokesman added that the council planned an "off-site compensatory tree planting project" which would see trees planted elsewhere in the borough to replace those cut down.

Mayor defends felling project

DONCASTER'S Mayor has consistently defended his actions in ordering tree felling in the centre of Doncaster racecourse, which he has described as the "jewel in the crown of Doncaster."

When protesters stopped his efforts he said: "We've got a grade one listed racecourse, the premier racecourse in the north of England, but upwards of half the action takes place out of the sight of any spectators.

"This should never have been allowed to happen. This is gross negligence on the part of the council in the past, and I'm trying to restore the racecourse to its former state – where people had a clear view. It's like going to Doncaster Rovers and finding there's trees planted halfway across the pitch."