Historic 120-year-old tree saved from being chopped down by council

Historic 120-year-old tree saved from being chopped down by a London council at the eleventh hour after homeowner lodges injunction to stop the felling without giving notice

  • The 120-year-old tree involved is on Oakfield Road in Haringey, north London
  • Insurers claim tree is responsible for subsidence and council want to fell tree

A 120-year-old tree has been saved from being chopped down by a London council at the eleventh hour after a homeowner lodged an injunction to stop the felling without giving notice.

Haringey Council in north London seized the tree in a dawn raid ‘under the cover of darkness’ on Sunday in a bid to stop furious activists scaling it and stopping the felling.

About a dozen-strong balaclava-clad security team currently patrol the site and a huge scaffolding structure that has been erected around it to create a look-out for the guards.

The move was branded heavy-handed after the security guards were deployed to stop a nearly year-long occupation of the tree by demonstrators, who put up hammocks and signs in the branches.

The council took possession of the tree earlier this week and was going to court to get permission to carry out the felling, over claims the deep roots were causing subsidence to two nearby homes.

Haringey Council in north London seized the 120-year-old tree in a dawn raid ‘under the cover of darkness’ on Sunday

A guard pictured on the scaffolding which has been erected for security personnel to use as a look-out

Campaigners say they have faced ‘abhorrent’ action from Haringey council after balaclava-clad security guards secured the tree in the middle of the night

But resident, Andrew Brenner, lodged his injunction in the early hours of Wednesday morning to stop the authority chopping down the tree without giving notice to other parties.

The hearing at Clerkenwell County Court yesterday, which was to decide the ancient plane tree’s fate, was adjourned after Mr Brenner’s dramatic intervention.

The injunction will now stand until a follow up hearing in a few weeks’ time.

The row over the tree began last year, when insurance company Allianz blamed it for being the primary cause of subsidence to a property and demanded the council chop it down and admit liability for £400,000.

Ohna Falby, whose home Allianz say is sinking due to the tree, has become increasingly frustrated that the insurers are not underpinning her property that she describes as ‘the source of all this mayhem’.

The 58-year-old resident told MailOnline: ‘These houses are worth millions. We have to get insurance companies if we want a mortgage to cover the building’s insurance but they charge us and know the risk and when they have an event that’s insurable, they don’t want to do the underpinning so they try find alternatives.

‘At the moment, the insurance company is receiving the inflated premium but not providing the service you bought. They are selling you a product they are not willing to honour and there’s no accountability.’

On hearing the councils plan, Haringey Tree Protestors (HTP) mobilised over 120 activists to guard the plane tree from the council worker’s chainsaws.

Mr Brenner lives directly behind the tree that insurance firm Aviva/Allianz claims is causing subsidence to his house dating back to the 1990s.

However, it was his intervention at yesterday’s hearing that resulted in the victory for the protesters.

The council took possession of the tree in the early hours of Sunday morning (March 12) amid disputed claims protesters had been preparing to occupy the tree with climbing ropes ahead of the court hearing this week.

Activists from the HTP deny these allegations.

Campaigner, Giovanna Lozzi, said: ‘They have tried to justify it by saying that we have been putting new stuff in the tree but it is not true.

‘The tree has not been physically occupied since the autumn.’

A protective wall has been built around the tree with 24-hour guards, fences, scaffolding and a viewing tower

Martin Ball, 55, from Tottenham, described the current scene as ‘an obscenity’ and questioned the ‘aggressive’ manor of securing the tree

Robert Hare, a former Haringey Liberal Democrat councillor for 20 years and founder of the Haringey Tree Trust, said the area was being treated like a ‘criminal site’

Charles Streeton, a barrister acting for Mr Brenner, said his actions were due to the council’s siege of the tree at 4:30am in the morning on Sunday ‘under the cover of darkness’.

The concern was not only that they might fell the tree but ‘that they might also damage the tree in such a way to necessitate its felling’.

He also said his client believed that the council ‘might act in a way to prejudice his case’ with the insurers.

Stephen Evans, barrister for Haringey Council, said until the judgement Mr Brenner did not indicate to the council that he wished the tree to remain or had ‘any difficulty with the council’s decision to fell it’.

But Mr Streeton added that Mr Brenner contacted Haringey councillor, Mike Hakata, and had been told his email had been sent to the legal teams.

He said the council had never sent confirmation to its legal team that it would not fell the tree, and Mr Brenner did not know if the council would wait.

Mr Streeton also said the ‘nub’ of his client’s complaint was that the financial ombudsman looking into subsidence issues in Mr Brennan’s home was waiting for Aviva to respond in order to submit its report.

He said: ‘Aviva has held up that response and that’s where the delay is coming from.’

Mr Brenner’s last-minute move came as a surprise for those protesting the tree being cut down.

Ms Lozzi, 49, added: ‘I didn’t expect it. It came at the very last hour. But I think that desperate measures ask for desperate actions. We’re all so shocked.’

Mr Evans said the council had put a notice on the tree last April but had been stopped from felling it by protestors, which was why in December it sought its injunction to stop them.

He said a financial ombudsman report would look at engineering evidence.

He added that if there were any previous reports sought by Mr Brenner and his next door neighbour against the felling of the tree, ‘we haven’t seen them. The council’s decision is made on sound grounds.’

Mr Evans also urged Deputy High Court Judge Dan Squires KC, to regard the ‘grave financial inconvenience to the council if the injunction wasn’t dismissed’.

The judge handed down the judgement earlier this morning (Fri) stating that the injunction will stand until a follow up hearing.

Ms Lozzi said after hearing: ‘We’re not quite there yet but it has definitely given us some very much appreciated breathing space.

‘When the residential injunction was taken out the judge could have discharged it this morning which would have meant the council could have felled the tree today on this grim rainy morning.

‘Ultimately we may lose the tree but we are hoping that this case will raise the whole issue. The reality of the climate emergency is still not being centralised in our legislation and government.

‘Mature trees are being neglected. People are obsessed with new planting, but new planting just doesn’t cut it. You cannot replace these mature trees.’

It is still not known whether the guarded enclosure around the tree will remain.

The level of security surrounding the tree has been slammed by locals, who claim it is a ‘brutal show of power’ by the local authority. Pictured are some of the guards at the site

Oakfield Road is in Haringey, north London. It’s become the centre of a battle for a 120-year-old tree

Haringey Council have been approached for comment.

A spokesman for the insurance company Allianz said: ‘This is a complex and ongoing case and we await the decision of the court.

‘Sustainability is a business priority for Allianz and we’ve not taken any decisions lightly.

‘We’ve been diligent in our investigations to find the best solution to solve the subsidence problem and are working closely with industry experts and the Financial Ombudsman Service.’

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