On Monday 23rd March, the High Court will decide whether we local residents have a case in asking for a Judicial Review of the decision made by Cllr O'Reilly on 4th March to proceed with the serious - possibly ruinous - cutting of the lower part of the avenue of plane trees facing the backs of house on Alpha Road. The trees are claimed to be responsible for cracks to houses along the road by withdrawal of water from the soil via encroaching roots, causing soil shrinkage.
We believe that the houses should be repaired at the expense of the insurance companies which chose to insure the houses. We seek to demonstrate that Cambridge City Council might have a good case to fight the insurance companies in court. To do so, we first needed to question the decision by Cllr O'Reilly and Council Officers to proceed with the cutting. We think they should retain these beautiful old trees for the public's enjoyment.
Our case is two-fold. Firstly we say that the information provided to residents in the consultation was inadequate for the purposes of understanding whether the insurance companies had demonstrated sufficiently that the trees were significantly culpable. The only "evidence" we were offered (unseen) was that of the Council's loss adjusters. No real technical data was offered.
Second, there is a recent Supreme Court deliberation which implies that it if you build an extension to a pre-existing house on land where tree roots already are present, it might be the case that the owner of the tree is not liable for any soil dehydration (and resultant cracking) - so called "nuisance". In changing the use of the land (e.g. by extending buildings), you might be deemed to have "come to the nuisance" and therefore be partly responsible. If so, this would mean that house holders' insurance companies would have to pay for any repair work to their insured properties, rather than getting tree owners (in this case Cambridge City Council) to pay. That would be a major advance for large trees in public ownership, which often face serious, injurious pruning or felling as a result of opportunistic claims by insurance companies.
The hearing on Monday will decide if we have a case. If not, the heavy pruning will proceed in the next week, the trees will be irrevocably cut and our case will be lost.