A CLUSTER of willow trees along the Water of Leith are to be felled, after council chiefs said it would be too expensive to save them.
The mature trees close to Canonmills Bridge were set to be axed last year by contractors to make way for £11 million of flood defences, but work was halted after campaigners collected 1100 signatures in just 14 days.
However, now felling will continue after it was deemed too expensive to work around the trees. Officials said work to preserve the trees would have meant taking over nearly all of the residential gardens on Howard Street for several months as a works site, costing £240,000 and delaying the project.
In addition, the council said it would potentially have put those properties and others at risk of flooding this spring.
Canonmills residents were shocked by the news, having been assured that at least some of the trees would be saved – although the council insisted those assurances had been conditional on the cost and impact on the project.
Local resident Ani Rinchen said the news was distressing for those who had campaigned to “stop the chop”. She insisted the gardens would have been used as a works site anyway, and that tree felling had left the area resembling a “war zone”.
“These gardens are already going to be wrecked by the flood works and then reinstated, so you can’t suggest that all these of trees are going to be cut down to protect the gardens,” she said.
“We got 1000 signatures which we delivered to the parliament, and the council agreed the work would stop. It’s very devious and we’re just not going to let them do it.”
Jim Henderson, 63, a retired lawyer who lives close to the bridge, added: “We understood the public’s view was decisive, so I’m a bit shocked to hear it’s been railroaded through.
“I walked past tonight and thought how lovely it was that the trees remained, but I’m not sure where we go from here.”
The flood prevention scheme is being implemented after floods in April 2000 caused tens of millions of pounds in damage.
Many of the trees in the area have large roots, which are said to be obstructing the construction of flood walls on the bank of the waterway.
Edinburgh North and Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm said: “If the circumstances have changed the council would have to meet with us and explain this. I’d be concerned they are going back on assurances that have been given.”
Gordon Mackenzie, the city’s environment convener, said the six trees which the council had attempted to save would have cost £240,000, or £40,000 each, to work around.
He added: “The decision was taken in light of the detailed assessment of additional costs which will be incurred, the overriding need to get on with this work to protect homes and businesses and the considerable disruption and inconvenience works to retain the trees would have caused to residents of the properties concerned.”