WITH potential costs across Ceredigion's highways of £20million, the issue of ash dieback needs further scrutiny before any decisions are taken.

Members of the thriving communities overview and scrutiny committee said that a plan for dealing with the risk should be brought back with a “business case” for the costs involved.

Cllr Keith Evans said: “We’ve been talking  about growing the economy, we need to be more savvy and think in more commercial ways.”

He added that more information was required before making recommendations to cabinet about resources and a business plan should be prepared.

This includes potentially recruiting a specialist officer to deal with ash dieback and contracts for felling.

Phil Jones, highways officer, said on January 15 that council owned trees on the highway could cost £1million to deal with while a further £19million was estimated as costs for private landowners with trees along highways.

A full survey of the county would require two members a staff for 29 weeks, working five days a week and the issuing of statutory felling notices would be nine years' work for one person, “so you can see the scale of the resources needed,” he added.

Costs per tree could range from £500 to £1,000 for removal, although an economy of scale would apply.

Cllr Ifan Davies raised the potential of using council employees and buying the necessary equipment to undertake tree felling rather than paying contractors.

“We’d be better off putting our own team together and buying a machine to process the trees,” he said.

Cllr John Roberts said: “The authority has all the protection and the farmers have no protection and that needs to be overcome somehow.”

A focus on regional working was also important, added Cllr Lyndon Lloyd.

Initial investigations have found that there are around 47,000 ash trees within falling distance of public highways in the county, the majority privately-owned, and around 9,960 on council land within the combined wider town areas of Cardigan, Aberystwyth, Tregaron, Lampeter and Aberaeron alone.

A further 250 or so have the potential to impact on Ceredigion’s schools, although not all will be affected or need felling, depending on public access.

A more detailed plan will be brought back to scrutiny before any cabinet decision is made while urgent work on felling high risk trees on council land and issuing felling notices to avoid bird nesting season will continue.