Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Minister steps in to grant threatened beech reprieve

The mighty beech tree is safe from the axe for now

The oldest street tree in Belfast has won another stay of execution.

The towering beech — believed to be 150 years old — had been earmarked to be chopped down over concerns about the damage its roots were doing to the surrounding pavement.

But earlier this month, as Roads Service staff moved in to remove it, they were confronted by furious residents at Glastonbury Avenue in the north of the city, who also alerted the Belfast Telegraph, which backed moves to save the tree.

Residents were angry over the failure of Roads Service to consult them over the fate of the tree, which is a well-known feature of the neighbourhood.

The Department of the Environment said it is the oldest, tallest street tree in the city.

Roads Service agreed to temporarily delay cutting the tree down and the Green Party asked for a tree preservation order to be imposed to protect it.

Engineers visited the tree and carried out investigations into whether an alternative to the chainsaw could be found.

On Sunday, Environment Minister Alex Attwood confirmed a provisional tree preservation order had been granted — buying the landmark at least another six months as campaigners for its preservation push for a compromise.

“I can confirm that my department has placed a TPO on this very fine mature beech tree in the footpath close to the junction of Glastonbury Avenue and Antrim Road,” he said.

“I became aware of local concern regarding the future of the tree towards the end of November and instructed that the decision was progressed quickly.

“The tree is the oldest and tallest street tree in Belfast and, whilst street trees are generally well cared for by Belfast City Council on behalf of DRD Roads Service, I opted for a precautionary approach in this instance.

“The provisional TPO was served on December 14 to safeguard the tree for its widespread public amenity value.

“I appreciate the co-operation my planning officials have had in their dealings with both the City Council and DRD Roads Service.

“The department now has six months to decide whether or not to confirm the TPO.”

One resident told the Belfast Telegraph workmen had put wires on the tree as part of the survey and had exposed the roots infiltrating the neighbouring garden.

She said the chief engineer had reiterated his insistence that there is no alternative to felling the tree.

“He said that in the end it will have to go,” she added.

The Woodland Trust said there was no evidence the tree is a danger to road users.

“We would be concerned if all urban trees with protruding roots were deemed to be a safety hazard.

“Some of these trees are natural monuments,” NI director Patrick Cregg said.

Background

Earlier this month, engineers from Belfast City Council, acting for Roads Service, arrived with a crane to cut down a huge beech tree in the north of the city. Following a confrontation with angry residents they left, but not before warning that they would be back to finish the job. The Woodland Trust said there is no evidence to suggest it poses a threat to road users.

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