A BLUEPRINT to manage and maintain trees and woodland across an area of almost 200sq km has been approved, despite claims it lacks ambition and is almost a carbon copy of one developed some nine years ago.

Conservative-led Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet heard as part of the refreshed strategy, the council was committing to make funds available to work with community groups to plant at least 10,000 trees in the next three years and continue at least the same level after that.

The meeting was told new housing developments, where appropriate, would see encouragement to include a street tree scheme as part of an overall carbon-cutting plan.

Councillors heard the authority had partly shaped the strategy on public responses to a consultation to which 145 people responded. For example, after concerns were raised that the development of orchards in parks had been removed from the strategy, it had been added back into the blueprint, and where appropriate the council would look to introduce areas of fruit trees in parks and open spaces.

Labour councillor Nick Wallis said he had introduced the borough’s previous woodland strategy in 2011 and after comparing that strategy with the latest version they were “almost identical twins”. He said three of the five paragraphs in the foreword, apparently written by cabinet member for local services Councillor Andy Keir, had been lifted from his foreword. Hes said: “In the section entitled ‘What residents have told us’, you might imagine that this relates to learning from the 2020 consultation. Except it is again lifted word for word from the 2011 strategy.

“This strategy is a cut and paste job. It does no credit to Cllr Keir, and it’s an insult to the 145 people and organisations who responded to the consultation in good faith thinking their voices would be heard, when cabinet already believed the existing ten-year old strategy was just fine. Why should anyone take part in a Darlington council consultation when they are treated like this?”

The meeting also heard the council’s Green Party leader Cllr Matthew Snedker called on the council to be far more ambitious by enshrining stricter environmental rules for developers to follow.

Cllr Keir said the strategy was ambitious and said he hoped “to get as many trees in the ground as possible”. He told the meeting the council was already working on bids to fund buying saplings and was seeking to recruit volunteers to plant them.

He said despite this, Cllr Wallis had taken a very negative view towards something that featured positive targets.

He said respondents to the consultation had been polarised and the council’s policy took a balanced view between those who wanted more action to protect trees and those who believed human needs should take more precedence.

He said much of the council’s previous strategy remained the best policy and simply changing the words of the document would have been a waste of officers’ time.

Cllr Keir said: “It doesn’t matter what we do. We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.”