Third report commissioned to decide future of historic Peterborough oak tree

A third report has been commissioned to decide the future of an historic oak tree in Peterborough that is under threat.

By Stephen Briggs
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 4:56 am
Campaigners are doing all they can to save the tree
Campaigners are doing all they can to save the tree

The Bretton Oak Tree - which is around 600 years old - has been threatened with the chop after reports from the council showed it was causing damage to a house - and saving the tree could cost the cash strapped council hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But protestors have said the tree can be saved, and are urging the council not to chop it down.

Today a third report was commissioned looking at if the tree can be saved.

The decision was made at a Peterborough City Council cabinet meeting on Monday, (21 February).

Cabinet members made the decision after reading a report prepared by officers for the meeting, looking at the recommendations of the Growth, Environment and Resources Scrutiny Committee and listening from both officers and other speakers during the meeting.

Councillor Nigel Simons, cabinet member for waste, street scene and the environment at Peterborough City Council, said: “To me, the evidence to fell the tree is compelling. However, I do feel that we need to listen carefully to our scrutiny committee and those who want to save the tree. Therefore, I’m recommending that a further independent expert report is commissioned within the next 14 days. The report should look carefully at issues raised by scrutiny committee, such as whether the damage is likely heave related or subsidence related.

“Following this additional report, if the decision is made to fell the tree, I’m also recommending that we agree that 100 extra oak trees are planted in the city - to offset the carbon impact of its loss.”

Cabinet members agreed with this recommendation and that Cllr Simons would make a decision after looking at the final report. This was after they had listened to officers say they are confident beyond any reasonable doubt that the tree is causing structural damage to a nearby home. They also heard that a further home is raising a claim against the council – as owners of the tree - and that potentially another three homes could follow suit.

The council has heard that to date, the cost of the damage is covered by insurance. However, now the council has been made aware of the issue, any future damage would have to be paid using taxpayers’ cash. Further damage is likely in the Spring/Summer as the tree will be in its active growth period after being dormant during the winter months.

The cost of underpinning just one home could be as much as £200,000 and if the tree is left to continue growing further damage could be caused to that home and potentially up to four further homes could be affected – bringing the bill much much higher.

Options available to the council include:

Fell the tree – The council has been advised this is the only proven way to abate the nuisance and to prevent further damage from occurring. In addition, if, despite felling, further damage did occur, the council would be in a very strong position to resist claims (because it had done all it could and had followed the advice) and any further repair would likely be covered by insurance.

Install a root barrier – the council heard this is believed to have a high risk of failure. This also relies on the homeowners being willing to have root barriers installed in their garden. Current and future homeowners would also need to know the exact location in order to avoid damaging the root barrier with a spade or other item (rending it useless). Each root barrier would also likely cost a five-figure sum. Also, if they did fail, the council would be in a weak position to resist further costs, as it had gone against the expert advice.

Pruning – Officers advised that for this to prevent further damage to the homes, the pruning would have to be so severe that it would lose the wider value of the tree. It would also have an annual management cost. Also, if it failed to prevent further damage to the home, the council would be in a weak position to resist further costs, as it had gone against the expert advice.

Do nothing - Not legally an option. The council is duty bound to abate the nuisance.

Accept liability - Accept the costs associated with underpinning properties affected. Effective, but very expensive, and not covered by insurance

Read the reports and evidence that cabinet members considered on the council’s website. Watch the cabinet meeting and the decision being made on the council’s YouTube channel where it will be published later today.