A neighbour stepped in at the eleventh hour to save a 120-year-old tree from being felled by the council.
Andrew Brenner lodged an injunction in the early hours of Wednesday to stop the authority from chopping down the tree in Stroud Green, north London, without giving notice to other parties.
It came as Haringey Council seized the tree, on Oakfield Road, in a dawn raid “under the cover of darkness” on Sunday in a bid to stop activists scaling it and stopping the felling.
The move was branded heavy-handed after security guards were deployed to stop a nearly year-long occupation of the tree by demonstrators, who put up hammocks and signs in the branches.
The council took possession of the tree earlier this week and was going to court to get permission to carry out the felling over claims the deep roots were causing subsidence to two nearby homes.
A hearing at Clerkenwell County Court on Thursday was adjourned after Mr Brenner’s dramatic intervention.
The injunction will now stand until a follow-up hearing in a few weeks’ time.
Tree blamed for property subsidence
The row over the tree began last year when insurance company Allianz blamed it for being the primary cause of subsidence to a property and demanded the council chop it down and admit liability for £400,000.
On hearing the council’s plan, Haringey Tree Protestors (HTP) mobilised over 120 activists to guard the plane tree from the council worker’s chainsaws.
Mr Brenner lives directly behind the tree that insurance firm Aviva/Allianz claims is causing subsidence to his house dating back to the 1990s.
However, it was his intervention at Thursday’s hearing that resulted in the victory for the protesters.
The council took possession of the tree in the early hours of Sunday amid disputed claims protesters had been preparing to occupy the tree with climbing ropes ahead of the court hearing this week.
Activists from the HTP deny these allegations.
Campaigner Giovanna Iozzi said: “They have tried to justify it by saying that we have been putting new stuff in the tree but it is not true.
“The tree has not been physically occupied since the autumn.”
Haringey Council were due in court on Friday seeking an injunction against the HTP and any other activists from protesting at the tree.
That hearing had been adjourned from December to give time for a financial ombudsman report against the insurers to be submitted, which has not yet happened.
But Mr Brenner’s surprise injunction threw a spanner in the works.
Charles Streeton, a barrister acting for Mr Brenner, said his actions were due to the council’s siege of the tree at 4:30am in the morning on Sunday “under the cover of darkness”.
The concern was not only that they might fell the tree but “that they might also damage the tree in such a way to necessitate its felling”.
He also said his client believed that the council “might act in a way to prejudice his case” with the insurers.
Stephen Evans, barrister for Haringey Council, said until the judgment Mr Brenner did not indicate to the council that he wished the tree to remain or had “any difficulty with the council’s decision to fell it”.
But Mr Streeton added that Mr Brenner contacted Haringey councillor, Mike Hakata, and had been told his email had been sent to the legal teams.
He said the council had never sent confirmation to its legal team that it would not fell the tree, and Mr Brenner did not know if the council would wait.
Mr Streeton also said the “nub” of his client’s complaint was that the financial ombudsman looking into subsidence issues in Mr Brenner’s home was waiting for Aviva to respond in order to submit its report.
He said: “Aviva has held up that response and that’s where the delay is coming from.”
Mr Brenner’s last-minute move came as a surprise for those protesting the tree being cut down.
‘Mature trees are being neglected’
Ms Iozzi, 49, added: “I didn’t expect it. It came at the very last hour. But I think that desperate measures ask for desperate actions. We’re all so shocked.”
Mr Evans said the council had put a notice on the tree last April but had been stopped from felling it by protestors, which was why in December it sought its injunction to stop them.
He said a financial ombudsman report would look at engineering evidence.
Mr Evans added that if there were any previous reports sought by Mr Brenner and his next-door neighbour against the felling of the tree, “we haven’t seen them”.
He continued: “The council’s decision is made on sound grounds.”
Mr Evans also urged Deputy High Court Judge Dan Squires KC, to regard the “grave financial inconvenience to the council if the injunction wasn’t dismissed”.
The judge handed down the judgment on Friday stating that the injunction will stand until a follow-up hearing.
Ms Iozzi said after hearing: “We’re not quite there yet but it has definitely given us some very much appreciated breathing space.
“When the residential injunction was taken out the judge could have discharged it this morning which would have meant the council could have felled the tree today on this grim rainy morning.”
The creative writing teacher added: “Ultimately we may lose the tree but we are hoping that this case will raise the whole issue.
“The reality of the climate emergency is still not being centralised in our legislation and government.
“At the moment the law is in the favour of the insurance companies and we just don’t think that’s right.
“Mature trees are being neglected. People are obsessed with new planting, but new planting just doesn’t cut it. You cannot replace these mature trees.
“They don’t sequester the same amount of carbon and they may not survive in droughts because they’re not strong enough.
“They’re putting a lot of money into planting new trees without looking after the old ladies on the streets.”
It is still not known whether the guarded enclosure around the tree will remain.
Haringey Council has been approached for comment.
A spokesman for the insurance company 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.”