Ashlawn Road oak tree saved from developer's axe after winning the hearts of residents and councillors

An oak tree believed to be around 100 years old has been saved from a housing developer's axe after it won the hearts of thousands of Rugbeians.

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 12:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 12:14 pm
Residents gathered to show their support for the oak tree. Photo credit: C Ravenhall-Essex.

The threat to the Ashlawn Road oak tree became clear when, on December 4, Rugby's planning committee voted five-three in favour of a plan submitted by David Wilson Homes.David Wilson Homes already had outline planning permission for an 860-home development on Ashlawn Road, and this December 4 submission was a reserved matters application that considered access, appearance and layout of the houses.

As part of this plan, the oak tree was found to be in the way of a planned cycle path - so it looked as if it would have to be chopped down.

Before the meeting took place Cllr Carie-Anne Dumbleton (Lib-Dem, Rokeby and Overslade) criticised the decision of Rugby council officers to recommend that councillors give this plan the green light.And though councillors approved the plan at the December 4 meeting, they expressed concern over the fate that might befall the oak tree.

The oak tree. Photo credit: Richard Allanach.

Residents rallied together over Christmas to hold a demonstration and set up a petition to try to fight to save the tree.

Rugby Extinction Rebellion member Helen Essex helped to organise the demonstration - and a petition she set up has so far (January 7) gathered 2,500 signatures.

She said: "I was appalled to hear the council decided to fell the ancient oak tree, especially as there was so much controversy over the large scale stripping out of the wonderful hedgerows and trees already at the site last spring.

"In just a week, I found many like-minded people, including Extinction Rebellion Midlands Red Rebel Brigade, prepared to give up their time to hold a protest, calling for the tree to be saved."

Talks to save the tree begin

Following this, and concerns raised by members of Rugby's planning committee, planning officers approached the housing developer and county council highways chiefs to try and secure the oak's future.Helen said: "Thanks to hard work from concerned councillors, news looked positive as they said talks to save the tree were taking place.

"We are all amazed at the rate of the rapid response to the petition given the holiday season.

"We hope the relevant authorities and David Wilson Homes can acknowledge the strength of local feeling regarding not just the future of this tree but the remaining trees, hedges, habitats and wildlife on the site.

"We urge them to work more closely with organisations such as the RSPB and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in doing everything it can, rather than skirting around minimum requirements, to meet and promote the needs of wildlife and well being of future residents.”

After the talks began, Rugby council leader Cllr Sebastian Lowe, speaking in December said: "While a solution to saving the oak tree in Ashlawn Road remains some way off, all parties have expressed a determination to try and find a solution, and we look forward to further discussions next month."

The tree is saved

A spokesperson for Warwickshire County Council told the Advertiser: "The designer has recently provided a revised design that retains the tree.

"The designer is also looking at protection measures during the construction phase to protect the tree during construction.

"So every effort is currently being made to save the tree."

The spokesperson added that the developer is making efforts to see that any work going on near the tree does not destabilise it.

"The only way the tree would come down now is if it became destablised and it turned into a safety issue."

They added that, because the amendment to save the tree was not considered a major change, there would be no need for further meetings to confirm it.

"It's a done deal," the spokesperson added.

The campaign goes on

Residents are continuing the campaign to highlight what they view as a threat to nature and biodiversity posed by the development.

As part of this Rugby resident Lois Betts, forest school leader and masters student in renewable energy engineering, will speak at the Rugby planning committee on January 8 to represent the public's concerns over the potential loss of the tree.

This planning meeting will cover the application for the first segment of the housing development - which, if approved, would make way for the first 105 homes out of 860.

Lois said: "An oak like this is home to around 1,000 species, and it has already removed over two tonnes of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

"The developers say they will plant 30 new trees, whose survival won’t be guaranteed and it will take decades for them to be able to do what this one oak is doing now.

"It makes sense to build around this beautiful tree.”

Resident and campaigner Richard Allanach welcomed the news that the tree has been saved.

But, he added: "More needs to be done to improve the overall development.

"This week the planning committee will decide whether 105 houses can be built with no play space for young children."