The Alexandra Gardens Trees Group (AGTG) is a group of around 100 local residents in Cambridge who enjoy and love the beauty of Alexandra Gardens, a small, restful and beautiful park in the West Chesterton-Arbury area of the city, close to the river. We want to preserve the beauty of the park which remains fairly true to its Edwardian design and layout. We especially want to ensure the future of the magnificent 115-year-old plane trees which form striking avenues and broad leaf canopy around the perimeter of the park, defining its character.
Insurance companies claim that tree roots cause cracking to neighbouring houses. Houses in the vicinity are mostly late Victorian or early Edwardian (built with bricks from the clay pit which used to occupy the place of Alexandra Gardens) and so have shallow foundations on clay, which is naturally prone to seasonal shrinkage and expansion, depending on moisture levels in the soil. Many have had modern extensions built, some with foundations stronger than the original, providing potential fissure points at the join.
2010 – claim against the Carlyle Road plane trees
We formed initially in 2010 to fight a similar plan by a previous Council administration to cut trees on the Carlyle Road side of the park. Through research and much public debate, we managed to convince the Council to preserve those trees. We rallied support of many local residents, held public meetings with Councillors and Council Officers and lobbied hard for the retention of this beautiful avenue of healthy, mature plane trees which may well live for another 100+ years if left intact. We successfully convinced the Council to negotiate with the insurance company. The claim was settled. It is important to understand that - in these cases that the insurance industry calls "subsidence" is in fact the normal movement of Victorian foundations on clay soil under varying conditions of hydration. House owners understandably want their house to be solid and safe. Buildings are not in danger of collapse or serious movement. What's more, there are far less invasive remedial methods than the old-style underpinning, beloved of the building/insurance industry. Read more here.
2015 – claim against the rear of Alpha Road plane trees
In 2015, fresh claims against park trees – this time along the back of the park, facing on to the rear of houses in Alpha Road - emerged, resulting in the decision of a new Council administration to severely cut these trees. The new threat meant that we had to raise a fight again. The Council was determined to cut the trees this time, acquiescing to the demands of insurance companies.
Consequently we reluctantly pursued a legal route to persuade Cambridge City Council to change its policy and fight the insurance companies through the courts. Legal action of any sort costs money, so we did not undertake this action lightly. We were also reluctant because we did not consider the Council to be our "enemy". We simply wanted the Council to fight the insurance companies and start the battle to shift the law back in favour of trees and away from the commercial interests of these giant companies...and in doing so, save these magnificent, irreplaceable trees. We managed to persuade the excellent local environmental law practice of Richard Buxton to guide us. He helped to take the case, ultimately, to the High Court in London, where a judge ruled against us. We believed his ruling was misguided (certainly in technical terms) but could not afford to go any further, despite the indulgence of Mr Buxton and his team.
2021 – claim against the Carlyle Road plane trees AGAIN
A new threat, warning the Council to drastically cut two of the majestic plane trees in the centre of the avenue or face an expensive lawsuit was issued by a householder’s insurance company after a rootlet from a plane was found on the property. The cutting would be ruinous and destroy the beautiful façade of the Gardens along Carlyle Road. As things stand, the trees will be cut in JULY 2021 to comply with the insurers’ demands. This is an outrageous act of vandalism which may well NOT solve the problem of plaster cracks in a house on Carlyle Road.
We have considerable sympathy with other interested parties in these cases. We sympathise with the Council; they are suffering great financial constraints by central government. We also sympathise with householders whose houses show cracks. We do not, however, have any sympathy with insurance companies which make these opportunistic claims in order to avoid their responsibilities - i.e. paying to repair the properties they insure.