Neighbours feud over Highgate’s oldest tree at risk of being chopped down

Two families are locked in a tense battle over Highgate’s oldest tree – which a couple claim is causing their home to subside.

The towering 14m hornbeam in North Hill could be chopped down unless a planning inspector rules to save it.

The tree’s owner Dr Michèle Badenoch is leading a campaign backed by the Highgate Society, the City of London Corporation and Haringey Council to stop the hornbeam from being felled.

Dr Badenoch, a private GP, said after a planning appeal on Tuesday at Haringey Civic Centre: “I have total sympathy with my neighbours’ plight, but losing a tree of this historical value would be cultural vandalism. It’s an important relic of Highgate Wood and is irreplaceable.”

Nickki Shamash and Laurence Gergel claim they have been unable to sell their home because the hornbeam has damaged its foundations and caused cracks to open in the walls every year for five years.

They have now taken their fight to the Planning Inspectorate after Haringey Council failed to rule in time on their application for the tree to be felled.

Mrs Shamash said at the appeal: “We have been living with this for five years and need some resolution. We haven’t been able to sell our home.

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“We are active members of the Highgate Society and love Highgate, but the impact on us and our family life does need to be taken into consideration.”

The council said the damage to the couple’s property did not justify removing the tree and would have refused permission if it had ruled in time.

The tree is at least 250 years old, but some have estimated that it could be up to 500 years old. It is thought to be Highgate’s oldest.

Jonathan Meares, the City’s Highgate Wood trees and conservation manager, joined calls to save the tree, and said the hornbeam was “irreplaceable”.

The tree’s fate will be decided in six weeks.