Suburb trees ‘protected’ by decision to save ancient oak

A ruling to save an ancient oak from the chop in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb could protect other trees in the future, it has been claimed.

An application to fell the 140-year-old tree was turned down by a planning inspector on the grounds it would harm the character of “one of the most outstanding examples of early 20th century town planning”.

While the independent decision will not set a legal precedent, it is believed it will provide back-up for conservation watchdogs when they face developers in the future.

Tony Ghilchik, chairman of the Suburb Residents Associations’ trees and open spaces committee said: “The planning inspector’s judgement can be used in appeals in the future where appropriate. We can copy his reasoning and I think it could certainly be used in a few upcoming cases.”

Conservationists say the ruling bodes well for applications to uproot trees in Willifield Way and Asmuns Hill and a spokeswoman for Barnet Council said it hoped the findings would protect other iconic trees.

Planning Inspector John Felgate said the ancient oak in Northway was part of a distinct group of oaks from Big Wood which became detached from the ancient woodland when Henrietta Barnett’s plans for the Suburb were realised.

He said: “The group forms part of the (Central) Square’s important perimeter zone, in which buildings, trees and other landscaping are skilfully juxtaposed, to create the impression of a townscape merging with the natural landscape.”

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The move to tear down the 20-metre high tree was also refused because there was not sufficient evidence to prove it would stop the considerable cracking to the walls and ceilings of the Grade II listed Tea House building.

Neighbour Kim Einhorn, of North Square, said the failed bid to axe the tree is part of series of spurious insurance claims which have seen thousands of trees uprooted over the last decade.

She and other campaigners claim insurance companies push for the cheaper option of felling trees rather than resorting to the costly underpinning of properties.

Mr Ghilchik said: “If you look at all the applications it seems their first resort is to cut down the trees which they think will save them money. We probably need to have a campaign against these claims.”