Oak tree protesters at Ringwood next to the tree in September last year.

Campaigners win reprieve for ancient Peterborough oak tree after councillors vote to commission

An ancient Peterborough oak tree - said to be up to 600 years old - which was due to be felled has been given a temporary reprieve after a city council meeting last night (February 15).

By Rob Alexander
Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 7:19 am

Residents in Bretton have been campaigning for months to save the tree which was due to be cut down after its roots started to interfere with a nearby property.

Peterborough City Council had previously given permission for it to be felled, despite a Tree Preservation Order on one of the trunks, due to a claim from an insurance company that the roots had caused damage to a nearby house.

But the residents’ campaign was supported by calls from Peterborough MP Paul Bristow that everything possible should be done to keep the tree.

Members of the Growth, Environment and Resources Scrutiny Committee of Peterborough City Council met last night and decided they want an independent report on the matter before they can advise what should be done.

The oak tree is the last remaining of a row of similar trees – all now cut down – on Blind Lane at the back of Barnard Way, Bretton.

In 1970, long before any houses were built, the trees were protected with a covenant stating that future properties should not be erected too close to them, avoiding potential issues with the roots.

In 1998, Peterborough City Council granted a planning application and the houses on Barnards Way were built, but with full consideration of the covenant.

One property in Barnard Way had a conservatory added to the rear of the property significantly reducing the distance from the house and its extension to the tree.

The roots of that tree – the last oak standing – are now interfering with the property. The homeowner wants the council to cover the cost of his insurance, but the council came up with an alternative plan to cut down the tree.

That decision, two years ago, outraged local residents who formed an action group.

Speaking to the meeting on behalf of the protesters last night was Richard Elmer, who said: “I wish the council would put as much effort into preserving this tree as they have into trying to convince us that removal is the best option.

“Why does the council continue to ignore and look past the original planning condition that stated no buildings were to be built or erected on the back?

“Paul Bristow MP has stated in the media more than once that no stone should be left unturned in the effort to save this much-loved veteran tree.

“To date, from what we’ve seen, the council officers have not tried to save this tree – they’ve put a large effort into trying to find a way to remove it, depriving residents and future generations of this magnificent tree.

“The council has a real chance here to redeem themselves because public opinion has not been great. The trees were granted Tree Protection Orders for good reasons, and these reasons still exist.”

However, Richard Kay, Head of Sustainable Growth Strategy for the council replied: “Just a reminder to everybody that tonight is not about making a decision. It’s about you, as scrutiny, recommending to Cabinet what their decision should be – one way or the other.

“There really are just two choices: Do you advise Cabinet to save the tree, and be willing to pay the costs and sums involved in that?

“Or do you take the difficult decision that the costs involved are too great and therefore the tree cannot be saved?”

In fact, the members of the committee were presented with three options to decide from:
- To determine that the consent that already lawfully exists for felling the tree be implemented; or
- determine that the consent should not be implemented, and instead undertake an alternative course of action; or
- determine not to take a decision, allowing the felling consent to lapse and consequently await to see what action, if any, the applicable insurance company(s) takes against the council.

Members voted in favour of the second option, adding that they wanted a further independent report to review the two existing reports (which they heard at the meeting), and also to look at the possibility of root barrier treatment for the tree.

Initially, it was hoped to report back to Cabinet at their next meeting, which is Monday, February 21, 2022; but that seems highly unlikely now given the short time available for an independent report to be compiled.

For that reason, the ancient oak tree in Bretton has its’ reprieve – for the time being at least.

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