Protester scales 150-year-old oak tree in Shrewsbury planning row

A 150-year-old oak tree has been spared the axe after it was scaled by a lone protester.

A protester sat on the tree in Featherbed Lane, Shrewsbury
A protester sat on the tree in Featherbed Lane, Shrewsbury

The tree, in Featherbed Lane, Harlescott, Shrewsbury, was just hours away from being chopped down to make way for new access to a school when the demonstration was staged on Monday, forcing contractors to call off the chainsaws.

The removal was scheduled as part of the expansion of Harlescott Junior School, where work has been ongoing since planning permission was granted in January.

When letters went out to nearby residents last week informing them of the work, questions were raised over whether the felling of the mature English Oak, thought to be around 150 years old, was included in the planning approval.

Sundorne representative Councillor Kevin Pardy said the tree was not identified for removal in the planning application documents or the report by planning officers when permission was granted.

He said this meant he and nearby residents did not object to the plans and had no idea the tree was going to come down until a matter of days ago.

A sign on the tree in Harlescott

Councillor Pardy raised the issue with planning officers on Sunday, and they agreed to investigate.

But fearing the tree could be cut down before the council could intervene, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists took the matter into their own hands and arrived on site first thing on Monday morning to prevent the felling.

The group said the tree was “a valuable civic amenity as well as being a treasured part of the landscape in this part of town”.

One protestor remained suspended in a climbing harness attached to one of the branches for several hours until a reprieve for the tree was granted.

An XR spokesman said: “Many passers-by stopped and expressed their horror that the tree was threatened with felling and many motorists hooted in support of the action.”

During the protest a bird’s nest and eggs were discovered, meaning it would be illegal to remove the tree until after nesting season.

Eggs in a nest in the tree

Councillor Pardy said he hoped this stay of execution would allow time for a solution to be found to save the tree.

He said the issue was that the planning officer’s report was “just not clear enough” on whether the removal of the tree was permitted.

Site plans submitted along with the application highlighted four smaller trees to be removed, while the large oak, labelled ‘T26’, was shown as being retained next to a new vehicle access to be created off Featherbed Lane as part of the school extension.

The council’s tree officer did not object to the application, saying the proposed removal of two “young” oak trees and two “semi-mature” lime trees could be compensated by new planting – but made no reference to the mature oak.

However other documents submitted with the application showed six trees, including T26, earmarked for removal.

A report by planning officer Kelvin Hall, granting approval of the application, said: “In line with the advice of the council’s tree officer it is considered that satisfactory mitigation could be provided through a suitable tree planting and replacement scheme which can be agreed as part of a planning condition.”

The report did not however address the fact that the tree officer’s comments were based on the removal of four less significant trees and did not refer to the mature oak.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Shrewsbury said: “What this means is that the value and importance of a large oak tree at least 150 years old was not considered in the early stages of the planning process by the council, so the scheme did not pay any attention to the risk to this tree and no proper mitigation was planned for its loss.

“Because the public was not aware through the original planning application that this tree was under threat there were no objections.”

They added that complaints would be sent to the council’s chief executive “to get to the bottom of how this travesty could have been allowed to happen”.

Shropshire Council later said in a statement: "As part of Shropshire Council’s major building project to expand and improve primary education in north Shrewsbury, there is an essential need to provide safe and appropriate new entrances to the school site. This work would require the removal of an oak tree along the highway boundary, which would be replaced with four new standard oak trees along with a wider landscaping scheme as part of the overall works.

"The council and its appointed contractor, Pave Aways Limited, have been open and engaging with the school and wider community at all stages of the planning and design of this project. The planning permission allows for the removal of the tree, which was clearly identified in the planning documents, and recent checks on nesting birds were carried out and proved negative. However, in the light of the suggestion that nesting birds may have been identified, the council will undertake the necessary ecology report to determine any nesting activity. As a result, the scheduled work to the tree will be postponed and determined at a later stage.

"All relevant documents regarding this development can be accessed under the planning reference 20/04289/FUL at https://pa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications/"

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