Kingston Council (RBK) authorized the felling of healthy poplar trees in Kingston according to internal party documents leaked today (April 24).

Images of documents — lifted from an internal Liberal Democrat report — were posted to Twitter by Councillor Sharon Sumner, a former Lib Dem councillor who defected to the Green Party earlier this year.

The report was attributed to Lib Dem Councillor Caroline Kerr, the chair of Kingston Town Neighbourhood.

It suggested that the decision to fell 19 distinctive poplar trees on Dinton Fields in Kingston earlier this year had been taken by RBK despite conflicting reports on the necessity for doing so.

RBK said as early as April 15 that it planned to remove the poplar trees from Dinton Fields, on the advice from the council's Tree Officer Ben Morgan, who said they posed a direct danger to the health and safety of residents in the area.

However, the leaked report showed that alternative viewpoints from other tree experts had returned conflicting opinions on the need to fell all of the 19 poplar trees.

Describing the event, the text in the report read: "Our (RBK Council) officers said a whole avenue of poplars was unsafe, a local tree expert said that only two were diseased and the rest could stay.

"Residents emailed in droves complaining that this was a financially-motivated decision which RBK tried to slip past without proper communication.

"RBK's communication could have been better and, given local cynicism, we brought in an independent arboriculturalist to adjudicate, promising to abide by his decision.

"His report was somewhat ambiguous but he said half the trees could stay.

"Officers continued to insist all the trees needed to come down and eventually the CEO made the decision to have them all felled."

The leaking of the report sparked an online backlash, with some residents angry that apparently healthy trees had been felled.

Speaking to the Surrey Comet after the report was released, local campaigner James Giles said: "Despite promising to do whatever the independent expert said, the CEO personally intervened to see that the trees were all chopped down, against the independent advice.

"The council paid for this with our taxes, so understandably the residents I've been speaking to are pretty angry."

Cllr Sumner also expressed frustration at the decision.

The Green Party Councillor told the Surrey Comet: "It really angered me. They said they would abide by what the independent report said, and they haven't.

"They have unnecessarily felled 10 trees, which I just think is disgraceful really. I'm very passionate about the trees and it's just wrong."

Following the leak of the internal report, RBK and some Lib Dem councillors maintained that the decision to fell the trees was based on serious safety concerns.

Cllr Kerr, who wrote the leaked report, said: "The decision to fell all the trees was not made lightly and was a matter of huge regret but, I have no doubt, it was done for the right reasons.

"Faults were identified during the inspections and Kingston Council could not jeopardise the life of a child.

"Six people are killed each year by falling trees / branches, and the council could face manslaughter charges if anyone died because one of the trees collapsed on them. We simply cannot allow that to happen."

A statement posted to the RBK website by RBK Chief Executive Ian Thomas also said that the trees had been chopped down based on concerns about resident safety.

Unlike the leaked Lib Dem report, Mr Thomas's statement suggested that all the investigative work conducted by the council recommended that felling the trees was the correct approach.

Mr Thomas said: "An initial inspection of the 19 trees in Dinton Fields was carried out by the council’s expert tree officers which found them to be contaminated.

"Further to this, an independent assessment of the trees confirmed these findings and showed the trees were in a more advanced state of decay than initially thought.

"A decision was made to remove the trees in order to prevent any risk of them falling. Whilst regrettable, this was in the interests of public safety for those regularly using the fields and, in particular, children that attend the school playground, adjacent to the trees.

"The council has a statutory duty to protect the public and specific duties in keeping children safe."

Mr Thomas added that RBK Council was committed to planting more trees in the borough and cited that RBK had planted 527 trees in the borough since April 2018.