Friday, 8 February 2008

From the Herald Express 7 Feb 2008


11:00 - 07 February 2008
After less than two weeks, you can already see how the work at Rock Walk is about to change the face of Torquay's seafront forever.But the team of 14 tree surgeons who are clearing the cliff face are having to cope with more hazards than working in all-weather from ropes on an overgrown rock face, handling tons of wood up to 60 metres above the seafront, cutting trees up to 80 metres tall with trunks fat enough you could park a small family car on top of one.They are also dealing with thousands of discarded hypodermic needles as they go about their work. Its popularity as a 'den' for drug users is another reason Rock Walk is being transformed.As the work started the contractors were helped by street wardens to clear the site of rough sleepers, and the tree specialists have been given special training on handling potentially lethal sharps.They are also having to contend with broken bottles and discarded cans.But as site manager Jamie Beaulah of Ipplepen-based Devon Tree Services said, the kind of anti-social behaviour which goes on in parks and gardens across the country today make these hazards an everyday occurrence.At the weekend their work was watched by crowds of up to 300 to 400 people which goes to show how many people care deeply about what happens at Rock Walk.And the aim of the work is not only to make the area safe in terms of dangerous, diseased and dying trees, but to open it up so it is no longer a haven for drug and drink abusers.Instead it will be a popular, attractive garden area offering fantastic views across the Bay.The contractors have taken some flak for the destruction going on, with the felling of dozens of trees, some more than a hundred years old, and the clearance of scrub which has smothered the rockface and some of the paths following years of neglect.Jamie, from Teignmouth, explained: "This is probably a one-off job. This kind of job has not been done before within a town on a rock face. We hope to learn a lot from this for the industry nationally. It is quite unusual to use such a large crane for work on this scale."He said while there had been criticism of the road closure from local businesses, they had received some positive feedback as well."We are not in the job of destruction and taking down trees unnecessarily," he said. "And we are not cutting down trees and walking away. It is part of an ongoing programme. It's as if we are starting again at Rock Walk."If we didn't do this now we would be looking at a lot more disruption and potential damage in the future when trees do come down."He said some of the trees, particularly the 39 mature Monterey pines (Macrocarpus) were suffering from an air-bornE bacterial canker as well as old age. Looking at the trees which have been so much a part of the Torquay skyline for many years, you can see how some of them are thinning, browning and dying off.One in particular, near the Torbay Hotel, could easily have come down in the next year or two, said Jamie. Some of the 'seedling' Montereys will be left to grow on. Other ageing pines which will come out include Pinus Pinea and Maritime pines.Using the second largest mobile crane in Britain, they also brought to the ground an evergreen Holm oak which had been growing at an angle out of the rocks. The wood from that tree alone weighed 10 tonnes.Some Ilex oaks will also be coming out, but selected younger trees will be kept. Any tree which would not survive another 40 years is being taken out. The scrub will be brought back to manageable dimensions.The aim is to keep the more decorative trees and shrubs at the lower levels, including the magnificent magnolia grandifolia near the Palm Court Hotel, which was in danger of disappearing under invading greenery, as well as arbutus, palms and other specimen trees.Jamie said: "Rock Walk has been in decline. I think a lot of it has been left too long. The plan is to put back a Mediterranean-style terrace garden. It will look a bit stark to start with, but once it starts growing it should look lovely."The project is taking a lot of paperwork as well, with 12-hour days a regular feature. Extensive surveys and health and safety risk assessments had to be carried out.He explained: "The only reason for the road closure was to accommodate such a large crane. We did our research with the council about the timing of the project. We have had to take into account the anti-social behaviour that has been going on up there."We are working at huge heights, with very dangerous trees, and as dangerous - if not more so - are the thousands of hypodermic needles scattered about."Every one of my guys has had special training to identify and deal with sharps, including the worst-case scenario of being injured."In our job it is becoming more and more the norm in the parks and gardens we work in, but it is the case right across the country."I have walked the area so many times now, and because of the way people are using it, I wouldn't walk up there after 6pm."Jamie is very optimistic about the future for Rock Walk. "When it is cleared and replanted and the new lights shine up to the top of the cliff I think it will be a very exciting project. The work we are doing now is a small drop in the ocean compared with the whole project. We have got to clear it sufficiently for the geologists to work. We are taking as much of the scrub off as we can which is a huge task in itself. The whole cliff face has got to be made safe."This seems to be the flagship project for the new Torbay, the first of a series. The rock face itself is beautiful. Lit up at night it will draw people in and be a real asset. We have opened up two footpaths nobody knew anything about. The footpaths will be redone and the bridges rebuilt as part of the third phase. We have had some really positive comments from people which has been great."A spokesman for Torbay Council confirmed the first £120,000 phase of the work has been paid for out of the council's repairs and maintenance budget. The cost of any necessary work identified from the geological survey including repairs to bridges will be assessed. This could be in the region of £600,000. The council will be asked to approve a capital budget of £2.25million for structural repairs and maintenance to many of the council's key assets of which Rock Walk is one.With mayoral approval, phase three will follow and will be the landscape design work and planting. There is currently just over £60,000 available from a number of section 106 agreement payments from developments in Warren Road available for phase three, some of which has already been spent on the concept plans. The aim is to have more lush tropical planting on the lower levels, progressing to sparser planting further up the rock face with, at the top, low aromatic herbs and succulents, plants that need less aftercare and maintenance.The tropical planting along the roadside will be renovated and replanted.

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Notes about the blog. Updated 08 March 2008

Not much is happening at Rock Work now. All the work clearing the trees has been done. A barrier has been erected to prevent rock falls from reaching the road. Now we wait for the geological survey in May to see what can be done to fix the rocks in place.
After that when work starts again later in the year I will post more photos.
Any news items I come across I will post as they appear in the local paper.

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