Criticism from experts and Extinction Rebellion over Peterborough City Council Bretton oak felling cost claims

Campaigners are left questioning the cities pledge for Environmental Capital status
Campaigner Richard Elmer at the Bretton oak before it was felled.Campaigner Richard Elmer at the Bretton oak before it was felled.
Campaigner Richard Elmer at the Bretton oak before it was felled.

Industry experts and campaigners have hit back at Peterborough City Council over its decision to spend £49,000 to fell the Bretton oak tree.

The Peterborough Telegraph revealed the total cost to fell the 600-year-old tree in Blind Lane, following a Freedom of Information request.

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The council claimed the original cost to axe the tree had risen from £8,000 to £49,000 due to legal fees and costs to fence off the area from protestors while the works were being carried out.

Protestors have now hit back at the council and claim the stakes couldn’t be higher to tackle the climate crisis

The council has promised to plant 100 new trees but Extinction Rebellion has called for the council to do more to live up to its commitment to be the country’s ‘Environmental Capital.’

Councillor Nigel Simons said: “The decision to fell Bretton Oak tree was not one that we took lightly. Although the felling was expensive, the alternative could have cost the council hundreds of thousands of pounds in repairs and legal fees. It would also have meant that the council had no money to plant additional trees in the city or maintain its existing tree stock.

‘Take time to read expert’s advice’

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One arboreal expert, who didn’t wish to be named, said the council insisting that by not removing the tree, they would be opened up to hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs “does not stand up to scrutiny.”

He stated that the initial expert “wrongly made the claim” that the zone of influence - the theoretical area that could be affected by a tree’s moisture demand - shouldn’t be applied (when considering whether or not the roots were responsible for damaging the nearby house) as it was only theoretical.

He also stated that the second of three independent experts consulted challenged the insurance company's claims that the tree roots were damaging the foundation of the house.

It’s claimed the experts “came to the conclusion that the council-owned oak may not be at fault as no evidence had been presented to support this claim and that as the homeowner’s own tree had been removed there was every chance that movement would not occur again.”

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Just over £20,000 was paid to tree surgeons for three days' work - an increase the expert has told the Peterborough Telegraph is difficult to justify.

He added: “If PCC had truly wished to save money then it could be suggested that rather than paying for the advice of experts and subsequently ignoring it, someone should take the time to read the expert's advice, review the documents presented by the insurers and if the discrepancies match, challenging the claim presented and potentially saving the taxpayer at least 75% of the figure we’ve now been left with as well as the tree.”

‘Shadow of former self’

Campaigners have been left devastated by the decision and have been unwilling to accept the blame.

John Hopkins and Richard Elmer, who brought the court case against the council said in a joint statement: “What about the residents that lived within sight of the tree who now have to live with its loss on a daily basis?

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“The residents whose children now will not walk to the park down Blind Lane because of the sight of the vandalised tree.

“Now the area is a shadow of its former self; are the council going to give residents a reduction in council tax and compensation for the effect the destruction on the area has had on house values and possible future saleability? Somehow, I doubt it!

“Environmental capital of the fens? It is no more than a sick joke!

‘Cathedral of nature’

Anna Bunten from the Peterborough branch of Extinction Rebellion added: “Local members of Extinction Rebellion (XR) joined the ‘Trees of Peterborough’ group because they understood this tree was a ‘Cathedral of nature’ and a natural asset to Peterborough.

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"XR Peterborough want this City to truly be an ‘Environmental Capital’ and understand that we need to tackle the climate crisis and nature crisis together, urgently. The stakes couldn’t be higher or more urgent.

"The council’s actions in removing this tree demonstrates a disconnection between the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ and their administrative processes.”

"Hang your heads in shame PCC, reflect and learn, never let this happen again. Our children deserve a future and you are the ones in a position to deliver or destroy this.”