War over 120-year-old tree threatened with the chop: Fury as a dozen balaclava-clad security guards seize historic London plane at dawn and erect fence to protect it from locals who are fighting legal battle to stop it being cut down
- 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
- Residents labelled council’s move to fortify tree as ‘grotesque’ and ‘abhorrent’
Campaigners have faced ‘abhorrent’ and ‘grotesque’ action from their north London council after balaclava-clad security guards stormed and fortified a 120-year-old tree on a quiet residential road in the middle of the night.
Haringey council and Haringey Tree Protectors have been locked in a complex battle over the future of the tree after threats of litigation arose from the insurers of two nearby houses – with an injection bid at the High Court set to be determined today.
Insurance company Allianz claim the tree is responsible for subsidence, but Haringey Tree Protectors refute this. If the three is not felled, the council say they risk an insurance claim of more than £400,000.
The tree in Oakfield Road, Haringey, has become barely recognisable after several security guards built a protective wall around it with fences, scaffolding and a viewing tower. Residents fumed after they started building the protection at around 5am in the morning on Sunday.
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’.
Campaigners have faced ‘abhorrent’ action from their north London council after balaclava-clad security guards secured the tree in the middle of the night
A protective wall has been built around the tree with 24-hour guards, fences, scaffolding and a viewing tower
Ohna Falby’s (pictured) insurers Allianz want the tree to be felled because they claim it is causing subsidence in her property
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.’
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Ms Falby wants to wait for the Financial Ombudsman – ‘the only body that look after the homeowner’ – to come to their decision before the tree’s future is decided. For now, she bemoans the ‘intimidating’ security guards who have ‘invaded’ the tree for no reason.
Ms Falby added: ‘We as a policy holders are in a lose lose position, there’s no body looking after our rights unless we can afford loss assessors and lawyers. It feels like we are getting blown in the wind. We’ve not been able to sell our house, we’ve not been able to fix our house. We’re stuck here. It’s difficult.’
In January, Clerkenwell County Court gave the council possession of the tree, but rejected the authority’s injunction request and deferred the hearing. A court decision on the injection is due this afternoon.
MailOnline spoke to furious Haringey residents who peacefully faced off against the masked security guards this week as the court battle continued.
Martin Ball, 55, from Tottenham, described the current scene as ‘an obscenity’. This is a tree which has stood for decades, over 100 years,’ he said.
‘Now we’ve got this grotesque chaos of Haringey Labour council trying to cut down this tree and actually doing so in a most aggressive and unseemly way which is just an affront to the people around here but also all of the people around Haringey.’
Robert Hare, a former Haringey Liberal Democrat councillor for 20 years and founder of the Haringey Tree Trust, added: ‘It’s astounding that the guards are here 24 hours a day at the moment, covering their faces as if its some strange criminal site.
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’
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
‘Allianz don’t want to spend the money to underpin the house, or further underpin it, and the council is putting the costs onto the council.
‘The council says it would cost £400,000 to underpin the house. But that’s what people pay insurance for, and that has to be factored in in the same way it would be with flood liability or any other liability.’
Gio Iozzi, of Haringey Tree Protectors, slammed the heavy-handed approach by authorities and has lodged an injunction against the council felling the tree in the High Court
Gio said: ‘This is a brutal show of power by a council that claims it is committed to fighting the climate crisis. It is undemocratic and undermines the court hearing process we are involved in with the council.
‘Thousands of pounds of our tax paying money is being spent against our will on this. This is not the way to do democracy.’
Residents have been left intimated by the high-level security and questioned why the tree has been secured before the court’s decision
Security personnel wearing face coverings have been standing guard at the tree on a set of fortifications built around it
Another resident, who did not want to be named, told MailOnline: ‘The way the council has gone about securing the tree is abhorrent and an absolutely inexcusable waste of public funds.’
Meanwhile 68-year-old Holly Aylett, an immediate neighbour, urged the council to ‘stand up to insurers bullying’. ‘We need to get the councils to help reinforce that change by setting precedence and standing up to the insurers,’ she added.
‘If the insurers were acting with probity, they would agree like we’ve been arguing, that they should wait to see what the Financial Ombudsman finds, and then take action if they need to.
‘Instead they are banging at the door, so one can only assume they have a vested interest in the tree being felled.’
Jane Leggett, 72, also questioned the motives of the insurers – arguing that the £400,000 figure has not been broken down.
She said: It seems to me it’s a bullying threat from the insurance companies because if they are not going to underpin – which it looks like they are not – and they won’t pay for the tree to come down, what are these costs and where have they put that money?
‘It’s insurance companies who are bullying in order to maintain their own profits at the expense of street trees.’
Campaigners Jane Leggett and Holly Aylett both accused the insurers of employing bullying tactics
When approached for comment, Allianz said that they ‘have not taken any decisions lightly’
Oakfield Road is in Haringey, north London. It’s become the centre of a battle for a 120-year-old tree
A spokesman for 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.’
A spokesman for Haringey council said: ‘The technical opinion we have most recently received supports the requirement for this tree to be removed as it is contributing to the subsidence issues. Having considered this matter in the light of expert opinion, the council considers that felling the tree is the only option in the circumstances.
‘Senior officers have been on site and believe additional ropes are hanging from the tree. The council has exercised the authority granted by the court order by taking physical possession of the tree to deter and prevent illegal occupation.
‘We appreciate that some disturbance and inconvenience may have been caused by this action, but we hope residents will understand the necessity of this work, and to do so unimpeded. We will make every effort to keep further disruption to a minimum.
‘If the tree remains, the council risks facing an insurance claim of more than £400,000. Should the council be held liable, that cost would need to be met by us rather than an insurance company or any other organisation. Such a large sum of money would have a significant impact on delivering key frontline service areas our residents rely on.’
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