A LONG-AWAITED report on dangerous trees in a Helensburgh woodland has finally been released by Argyll and Bute Council officials – and has sparked renewed criticism of the local authority.

A report by an expert from TD Trees on the risk posed by trees in the Duchess Wood was given to council officers in June, and prompted the authority to announce that public access to the wood, a local nature reserve, was no longer permitted.

But despite repeated requests by Helensburgh councillors and by members of the Friends of Duchess Wood to see the report, it wasn't released until Tuesday of this week – three months after the closure.

And in its response to the report's disclosure, the authority says it is still trying to find the money needed to carry out repair work – suggesting that the access restrictions to the wood may not be lifted any time soon.

READ MORE: Duchess Wood closed by council over 'safety concerns'

The report says that 97 trees in the wood pose a risk to the public, and that it should take between two and four weeks to make them safe.

But three months on from the announcement of the access ban – which has not been accompanied by any notices, gates or cordons, and has been ignored by many members of the Helensburgh public – no safety work has been carried out on the trees deemed to be dangerous.

The report's findings led Matt Offord, chair of the Friends of Duchess Wood, to renew his criticism of the council for its failure to take action in the wood – not just recently, but over the 10 years for which it has been responsible for the management of the area.

Mr Offord said he believed it would be "unwise" for any unqualified member of the public to dispute the report's findings or the council's decision to close the wood to the public.

READ MORE: Friends group blasts council over closure of Duchess Wood

“The survey was conducted by a Mr David Whyte, a highly qualified ecological arborist experienced in issues of public safety, wildlife conservation and woodland management," Mr Offord said.

“The survey discovered no fewer than 97 trees which present a danger to the public in the form of hanging branches, dead wood, entirely dead trees and other hazards of that kind.

“The hazards are close to the paths and parking areas throughout the wood.

“In my opinion, it would be unwise, unless suitably qualified, to challenge the conclusion to close the wood to the public."

Members of the council's Helensburgh and Lomond area committee voted last year not to continue with the current management agreement for the wood after it runs out in the summer of 2020 – leaving the future operation of the wood, which is owned by Luss Estates, shrouded in uncertainty.

READ MORE: Councillors vote to walk away from Helensburgh wood management role

Mr Offord continued: “There are a number of very concerning issues arising from Argyll and Bute’s handling of the situation.

“Firstly, the report finds no evidence of ongoing management and regular surveys for the last 10 years at least.

“This suggests very strongly that Argyll and Bute Council have neglected their duty of care to the public since taking over the management of the wood.

“Additionally, the survey focused only on high priority trees and requires these trees to be made safe within two to four weeks, depending on risk.

“It has been almost three months since the wood was initially closed and there is still no sign of a forward action plan to make these trees safe.

“I believe this to be negligent. Simply closing the wood does not relieve the council of their duty of care to deal with the risk posed by the trees, especially when this action has not been followed up with any kind of information campaign to appraise the public of the risks.”

“Engagement with Friends of Duchess Wood and Luss Estates, the land owner, has been minimal and all decisions have been taken out of the management structure.”

READ MORE: Duchess Wood 'won't reopen until 2020', Friends group warns

Helensburgh Central councillor Lorna Douglas, who chairs the wood’s management committee, said: “I am delighted that all partners now have a copy of the report, but that we have waited nearly three months for this is disappointing.

“While the report better informs us of the overall situation of the wood, and why a recommendation to close it was carried out, we are still faced with the issue of when the wood is likely to open again.

“Issues around the lack of long-term maintenance has been raised but this comes as no great surprise to the committee as this issue had already been raised on several occasions before the survey was carried out.

“I hope that funding can quickly be secured to enable remedial work to be carried out and that the woods can be opened in whole or part ASAP.”

READ MORE: Council staff 'verbally abused' over Duchess Wood closure, meeting is told

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson told the Advertiser: “We reacted swiftly to the report, taking immediate action to restrict access and protect public safety.

“In the current climate of ongoing cuts to our budgets, we are doing everything we can to identify potential funding options to allow the required work to be carried out.”