Five healthy, mature, century-old, London planes forming part of a magnificent avenue lining the rear of Alexandra Gardens in north-central Cambridge are in danger because of insurance claims. Under a scheme proposed by Cambridge City Council, they would be severely cut back, reducing the crowns by 70% of their volume. This would greatly damage the visual unity of the line of eleven beautiful trees and would reduce their lifespans, which without interference could be another 100-200 years.
Alexandra Gardens is an Edwardian park laid over an old brick pit. The surrounding land, rising slowly from the River Cam, is mostly riverine clay with some patches of sand. Our research showed that many Victorian houses in the locality (which is one of the very few mild inclines in Cambridge) show cracks due to the seasonal hydration and dehydration of the clay soil, whether they are near trees or not.
Mostly these are repaired and painted over but sometimes, in more serious cases, underpinning is required. However, aggressive insurance companies seek to avoid paying for their clients' repairs by claiming that neighbouring trees are causing the damage. They demand that the owner either pays for extensive underpinning work, or fell or seriously cut the trees, removing most of the branches.
Case law is in their favour. If roots "trespass" near a property, then the law considers that the trees, in the balance of probabilities, are contributing to the "nuisance" and therefore must be removed. A Supreme Court judgment in 2014 (Coventry v Lawrence  UKSC13) offered the possibility that the law might be shifted. We seek to pursue this through the courts and persuade the council to fight these opportunistic claims by insurance companies.