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‘My trees could kill somebody - but I can’t chop them down’

By WBCraig  |  Posted: February 13, 2014

  • ohn and Jenny Muir pictured by the trees which are in danger of falling into the road and surrounding properties

  • One of Dr Muir’s trees fell onto a car in November 2010

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A HOMEOWNER fears trees in his garden could kill someone – but he is not allowed to chop them down.

Three of the 70ft beeches on land spanning two properties in Falmouth have already fallen, damaging a home, crushing a car and narrowly missing a group of young people.

The tenants of a property where one crashed onto the roof last week said they “felt lucky to be alive”.

But John and Jenny Muir, whose property near Marlborough School contains seven trees, have been refused permission to remove them as they are protected by law.

Dr Muir is most worried about two on the edge of his property, which are close to where parents park on Silverdale Road while on the school run.

“We are frightened of the trees because they have the potential to cause damage,” he said.

“The trees are close together,” he said. “They are also on the edge of a steep bank.

“If they fell they could kill someone.”

Beech trees’ shallow roots leave them vulnerable to wind, especially in wet conditions.

Last Tuesday, Cornwall Housing tenants Maria and Richard Clark were woken at 5am when a 70ft tree from a neighbouring property fell onto their roof in Marlborough Avenue.

“We thought the house was going to collapse; that we were going to die,” said Mrs Clark. “We felt lucky to be alive. People have been saying this is just a miracle that we weren’t hurt.

“We have always wondered about the trees as they sway in the wind. Cornwall Council principal forestry officer Colin Hawke told us they had tested the trees next to the one that fell and it was safe.

“But he said he can’t guarantee they won’t fall down.

“Whenever the gale-force winds blow, we are on edge. If any of the other trees came down they would crush our house, or the ones next door.”

The tree which damaged the roof was part of a stand woodland as Dr Muir’s neighbour, Marlborough House, which was built in 1810 by Captain John Bull of the Falmouth Packet service.

The tree sat situated less than a metre from Dr Muir’s fence.

Cornwall Housing said it moved the Clarks and will attempt to recover costs from the tree owner.

Five trees have been legally felled on the retired doctor’s land but in 2010 one toppled. He said: “A survey on one of the trees said it was not unsafe. Six months later it fell down and crushed my neighbour’s son’s car.”

“We applied to have the tree taken down.

“We had a survey on it, which said it was not unsafe.

“Six months later it fell down and crushed my neighbour’s son’s car. It was rotten.”

Since then Dr Muir has twice been refused permission to remove the two trees on the edge of his property, plus a third. Appeals against the decisions were refused in October.

Refusing the appeal, planning inspector Roger Prichard said the trees made a substantial contribution to the visual amenity of the area, and as such were rightly subject to a Tree Preservation Order.

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2 comments

  • Barrett64  |  February 14 2014, 9:48AM

    I have looked into this situation as I am a local resident and tree enthusiast and as far as I understand the situation the trees that have recently failed are not the trees for which the Council refused permission and those trees are still standing. The tree that failed did so in 2010 and apparently the 'group of young people' that were 'narrowly missed' were inside a building at the time of the tree failure a building which was some way from the tree so were hardly at risk of harm. The survey of the trees prior to this tree failure was nothing to do with the Council but was undertaken by someone in private practice. It seems that the tree that failed in 2010 had a large cavity in it which is why it failed it does not follow any logic to suggest that this failure of a rotten tree means that all of the adjacent beech trees are also going to fall over. The reason that they were refused consent was because there was no evidence to suggest that the trees are an unacceptable hazard and no sound arboricultural argument was forthcoming at either the Application or Appeal stage to support Mr Muir's own opinion that the trees are 'unsafe' and likely to fall over. All of this information is public record and can be freely accessed by anyone. I would be glad if you could forward me the information to support the claim that beech trees have especially shallow roots as this is not in accordance with all other respected peer reviewed literature on the subject of tree root depths. The article contains the following statement about the beech trees 'If they fell they could kill someone' this is no doubt true and is actually true for almost every mature tree so using the logic of Mr Muir this means that we should fell every mature tree just in case it falls over. This story is cheap and unprofessional journalism which is a disgrace and is at best disingenuous and the plain fact is clear for every one to see i.e. the trees that Mr Muir applied to fell and which the Council and the Appeal Inspecting Officer said showed no evidence of being especially likely to fall over have not fallen over so it looks like the Council made the right decision.

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  • goliath_david  |  February 13 2014, 7:24AM

    So he has to pay compensation as he was refused permission to chop them down? How about if someone came along and chopped them down without his knowledge? would they go after him for tree preservation breeches?

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