After erecting scaffolding with three viewing platforms, a diesel generator, portaloo and up to 18 masked security guards to take possession of a street tree, Haringey Council is now facing the embarrassing situation of having to take it all down a week later. This expensive militaristic operation achieved nothing but lots of press coverage and bad publicity. Haringey had pre-empted the court’s decision on the future of the tree, a mistake that has cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds.

The 123-year-old plane tree in Oakfield Road, Stroud Green, had been defended by Haringey Tree Protectors for over a year. The council wanted to chop it down because insurance companies Aviva and Allianz say it is implicated in the subsidence claims of two homes. The tree protectors say that even if the tree is ‘implicated’ it is not the cause of the subsidence. Other homes in this part of North London, standing on clay soil, have subsidence whether they have trees nearby or not. Both campaigners and homeowners insist that even if the tree is felled the houses would need underpinning. This is a costly option that insurers seek to put off as long as possible by blaming trees.

Underhand tactics

It was at 4.30 am last Sunday morning, when local residents, without prior warning, were woken to the sound of scaffolding being drilled and some sort of militaristic invasion taking place.

The council has consistently refused to answer why it took possession of the tree without informing residents, nor why a letter sent by head of parks Simon Farrow, on March 12, falsely claimed “people have begun to install climbing ropes and other items in the tree” as justification.

Later in the week the road was closed to traffic and road closure signs had been erected to prepare for security around the felling that did not take place.

Awaiting the judge’s decision

Former Highgate councillor and Stroud Green resident Clive Carter said “Last week Haringey appeared to try to bounce the County Court into giving the council a green light to fell the Oakfield Road tree. It backfired. The case has now ricocheted into the High Court for decision”

In addition to Haringey’s injunction against the Tree Protectors, the owner of one of the affected homes has issued an injunction against Haringey, fearing the council would fell the tree before the judge’s ruling and thus prejudice his insurance claim.

How much has this cost the taxpayer?

The council originally said that if the insurers take them to court for letting the tree damage the homes, it will cost them £400,000. They are now saying it will be £1m, but have provided no evidence for this increase. Perhaps this reflects the cost of this bizarre security operation!

Clive Carter added “Haringey’s removal of their scaffolding and guards reflects the sting of bad publicity and possibly a realisation that one week’s high cost of round-the-clock security could now extend for many weeks.

“The whole fiasco ought to raise many questions.”

Councillors’ comments

Labour councillor Eldridge Culverwell said the Labour-run council must not “capitulate” to big insurance companies.

“When insurance companies come putting pressure on the council it should address it through central government,” he said. “If they continue to capitulate on this it will be a carte blanche to insurance companies to continue with their murderous axe.”

“We must look to the future because before long other houses will say there are subsidence issues and it will be a natural thing to say ‘cut this tree and cut that one’.

“We’ve got to look at the bigger picture. We need to look after ourselves and the next generation. This is a serious issue.”

Former Highgate councillor Clive Carter said Haringey Council has “concealed information from the public” by redacting reports about the tree and “had not been, and continues not to be, transparent”.

He added: “Council leader Peray Ahmet’s great claim on becoming leader was co-production with the community but it looks more like co-production with insurance companies.”