A COUNCIL is to spend nearly £400,000 on removing all ash trees from six stretches of highway verges due to a fungus infection. 

Work is set to get underway this month as the decaying trees, that have been identified as at risk from ash dieback disease, will have to be felled before the bird breeding season starts in mid March. 

Torfaen County Borough Council already removed ash trees from a section of Cwmbran Drive – the A4051 which runs through the newtown – in February last year at a cost of £65,500 and identified other areas where trees could be at risk

The council’s cabinet member for the environment Mandy Owen will this week approve spending £383,150.92 with two firms that have tendered to remove the trees from a further three areas of Cwmbran Drive and along the roadsides at Cwmavon Road, from Abersychan to Cwmavon, Hafodyrynys Road from Pontypool to Hafodyrynys and at Foundry Road, Abersychan. 

A report by the council’s head of environment and street scene, Andrew Osborne, said it had been accepted in February 2022 that all ash trees would have to be removed from the roadside as the cost of closing the roads, and removing them, is too great to allow healthy trees to remain in place. 

His report states: “Apart from the risk to people and property, the loss of such a large number of trees will have significant visual impact on the landscape of Torfaen, its biodiversity, the ability to capture carbon and the control of atmospheric pollution along road corridors.” 

It is expected most areas will regenerate naturally as there are saplings from various species present and where this doesn’t happen new trees will be planted. 

Ash dieback was first identified in 2006 as the fungal infection that had been killing trees across Europe during the previous 10 years.  

The Woodland Trust estimates the disease will kill up to 95 per cent of ash trees across the UK and cost the UK taxpayer £15 billion. 

Torfaen will use £263,150.92 from its reserves to cover the cost of the tree removals with the balance of £120,000 coming from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is the government’s replacement for European Union funding. 

However as that cash has yet to be formally approved by the Treasury it will have to be underwritten by the council from its reserves. 

Road closures will be required when the trees are removed. 

The council has also surveyed trees in school grounds which has found “a large number of decaying ash trees” and a programme to remove them will be agreed for the winter of 2023/24 though any urgent works will have to be carried out between now and this March. 

The council’s education department has an annual budget of £12,000 for such work and if the programme exceeds that amount the council intends that individual schools will have to cover the cost.