ARDS town centre has worse tree coverage than industrial parts of Belfast Docks.

That’s according to a new survey of tree coverage across the UK that graded the heart of Newtownards as one of the worst parts of Northern Ireland.

The town centre was marked at 30 out a possible 100 points on the Tree Equity Score, which was published on Tuesday.

The survey says just 5% of the area is covered by tree canopies. It recommends that at minimum, every part of the country should at have least 36% coverage.

Even industrialised Belfast Docks do better, scoring 38 out of 100 with 8% canopy cover – despite that part of the capital city including several dual carriageways and part of a motorway.

The survey divided Ards and North Down into 71 zones; Newtownards town centre is dead last, and categorised as being at the highest priority need for intervention.

The town centre zone marked off by the survey includes the retail heart of Newtownards plus several residential areas, a popular school and Ards airfield.

The lowest marked part of Bangor is the Bloomfield area, which includes a heavily built-up housing estate, an industrial park and a large shopping centre.

It scored 41 out of 100; the highest graded places in Ards and North Down were leafy parts of Cultra and the Holywood hills, where two zones hit 99 and a perfect score of 100 points.

For councillor Barry McKee, leader of the Green Party faction of Ards and North Down Council, the Tree Equity Score is proof that political authorities need to brainstorm a new programme for planting trees on urban streets.

That could mean factoring on-street trees into any upcoming public realm renewal projects, he argues, so that even areas built long ago can be revamped with greenery.

“Trees have such a significant role in health, wellbeing and climate resilience,” he said, “but this survey shows there are places in this borough where residents are not living with the benefits that come from trees, and are disproportionately affected by pollution.

“In Newtownards town centre and Bloomfield in Bangor, it is clear that we need to target resources into increasing tree cover.

“Lining our streets with trees and planting more trees in underutilised green spaces are just two ways we could follow the example of countries that have successfully increased tree cover in densely populated residential areas.”

Mr McKee is now calling on Ards and North Down Council to build the results of the Tree Equity Score into its planting policies.

“The council has an important role to play in supporting landowners and encouraging communities to plant more trees so people can reap the benefits,” he said.

“The important data provided by this survey can help inform and shape the council’s tree strategy, to get the trees to the people that need them most.”