Peterborough City Council have said the tree needs to be cut down as roots are damaging houses nearby – though protestors want to see it saved.
Speaking to members of the Full Council on 22 June an impassioned councillor Nicola Day said: “Can I ask the cabinet why the Bretton oak tree needs to be felled when the council's own expert says that there is no conclusive evidence linking the oak to the damage – and, that there is only a future risk of damage to properties - is this not unacceptable?”
Cabinet member for waste, street scene and the environment, councillor Nigel Simons replied: “This has been a very difficult decision I have to say but the damage seen already to the two properties clearly demonstrates that the houses have subsided and the monitoring undertaken to date shows a pattern consistent with drying and shrinkage of clay soils.
“All other potential causes have been dismissed and therefore the only possible cause is drying and shrinkage associated with moisture extraction from the two oaks – trees T1 and T2 at the rear of the properties.
“The third expert report also confirms that damage is probably caused by root-induced subsidence.”
The Bretton 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.
Councillor Simons added: “We are aware that the zone of influence of the oak trees roots beyond the two damaged houses and thus further properties may be implicated in the future.
“This suggests that the problem may get worse, not better, and the corresponding financial risk to the council could increase.
“Oak tree ‘T1’ has already been removed by the homeowner. However, it has been expressed that without DNA analysis it cannot be conclusively proved that the roots of oak tree ‘T2’ has caused the subsidence to the nearby properties.
“The body of evidence is clear however: the balance of probabilities is that oak tree ‘T2’ is the primary cause of the now accepted subsidence, and that such additional proof was not necessary to obtain.”
‘Sledgehammer to crack a nut’
Councillor Day responded by saying: “The council has commented that there are four other houses which could possibly be affected in the future, and to minimise that risk they want to remove this ancient oak.
“Would the cabinet member agree that felling an ancient oak to avoid a future risk is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?
“If other UK council’s took the same approach, many thousands of trees could be felled removing carbon-sequestration, shade, habitats, and all the services provided by trees.”
In 1998, Peterborough City Council granted a planning application and the houses on Barnards Way were built with full consideration of the covenant.
All except one property in Barnards Way, which 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 to the extent that the home insurance company say they will not insure the building.
The homeowner now wants the council to cover the cost of his insurance.
‘Residents being ignored’
Councillor Day added: “Why does this oak tree need felling when costings as low as £36,000 have been quoted to put in root barriers?
“Why are the legitimate concerns of local residents being ignored?”
Councillor Simons responded by adding: “The insurance company have discounted the use of root barriers so we can’t use them.
“The only reason this ancient oak is to be felled is to remove our liability.
“I can assure you if there was anyway we could get rid of our liability without felling this ancient tree we would have done – I can assure you of that.”