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Doomed Stoke Park Oaks Felling As Early As Monday – ‘Criminal Investigation’ Ongoing

Published on: 10 Oct, 2021
Updated on: 10 Oct, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Angry letters to The Guildford Dragon NEWS and a flurry of negative comments swiftly followed Guildford Borough Council’s announcement on Thursday, October 7, that two damaged oak trees in Stoke Park would be removed as early as Monday, October 11.

Photo showing the severed roots of one of the oak trees adjacent to the newly opened Guilden Village student accommodation.

The 15- to 20-metre high, mature trees were allegedly damaged during construction of the recently opened Guilden Village student accommodation which borders the park. The Guildford Dragon NEWS has been told a criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing.

See Fight To Save Oak Trees At The New Guilden Village Student Development

Severed roots of one of the oak trees next to a footpath around the Guilden Village.

The council said the “majority of structural roots on the building side of the trees have sadly been severed”. It fears the trees were unstable as a result and had to be removed as they were considered to pose a danger to the public in Stoke Park.

The damaged oaks next to the Guilden Village.

The contractor, McAleer & Rushe, said on September 25: “We believe the trees can be retained and we are fully committed to securing them.” A later statement (October 8) said: “We are working with Guildford Borough Council throughout the investigation, but due to its ongoing nature we cannot comment further at this time”.

The project had been approved by the planning inspectorate on appeal in 2018 after being rejected by the coucnil in 2017.

The damaged oak trees appear to be approximately between 1.5 to 5 metres from the Guilden Village building.

The leader of Guildford Borough Council, Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch), said he was “shocked and angry” about the tree roots being severed, saying: “If criminal negligence has occurred we will do everything we can within the constraints of the law to pursue compensation from those responsible. Evaluating the adherence to the planning permission will be a major part of the investigation”.

Asked about a stay of execution while an independent opinion was sought, Cllr Bigmore said council experts, and discussions with the contractor’s specialists, had looked at the options available to save the trees. He said cutting the trees back had been considered but it would only have a “10% to 15% chance” of success as it would have to be “heavily pollarded”.

He added: “The trees are on our land. We would not do this unless we had to but public safety trumps all. I hope whoever is responsible will realise the public outrage it has caused.”

GBC Facebook announcement on Stoke Park oak trees to be felled.

Guildford resident Ashley Stapledon wrote to The Guildford Dragon NEWS saying: “Many people are deeply concerned and angry”. She was suspicious of the motives for the tree removal saying: “It serves the developer’s interests to remove the trees, but not the interests of local residents, park visitors and many species of wildlife, let alone the trees themselves.”

Another reader was critical the building was designed to be so close to the trees. He said: “What will the punishment be for the developer? A slap on the wrist? A paltry fine?”

See Letter: Doomed Stoke Park Oaks Raises Questions For Architect And Council

Comments on social media were critical of the council for not monitoring the works sufficiently to stop the damage.

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Cllr Ramsey Nagaty, (Shalford) said: “The matter is currently a criminal investigation so it would not be appropriate for officers to comment on the details. I am assured whatever the situation, GBC would look to plant mature trees as opposed to saplings.”

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test 4 Responses to Doomed Stoke Park Oaks Felling As Early As Monday – ‘Criminal Investigation’ Ongoing

  1. Diana Pollock Reply

    October 11, 2021 at 7:10 am

    A very sad day if indeed we lose these huge beautiful trees. A full, open investigation needs to happen here and people held properly to account, not simply a fine.

  2. John Oliver Reply

    October 11, 2021 at 8:25 am

    In allowing the appeal, the Planning Inspectorate said that a condition was that the recommendations in Stage B of the Tree Report of 27 June 2017 by Ian Keen Ltd would be implemented. A few quotes from there:
    “B3.1 All trees outside of the ‘red line’ will be retained and unaffected”
    “B3.2 The trees to be retained are high quality specimens….”
    “B5.3 BS5837 provides guidance on what are acceptable methods of hard surfacing to install within a root protection area….” [Was this followed?]
    “B8.2 The retained trees are sufficiently remote from the proposed dwellings that shading will not be an issue” [So why is the building so close to the trees?]
    “B8.5 It is considered the relationship between the retained trees and accommodation will be acceptable and should remain so for the foreseeable future” [So much for that!]
    “B10.2 Application of BS5837:2012: Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction, through careful construction management, through careful construction management, can ensure the construction process has the minimum effect upon the trees
    “B11.4 The trees planned for retention can be adequately protected during the construction phase of the works.”
    “B11.5 The proposed relationship between the retained trees and the student accommodation can be sustained throughout the life of the properties with appropriate management”

    None of this has come to pass. The construction company and, if applicable, the developer should be taken to task over this to the full extent of the law when culpability is established.

    It is this commercial creep that is killing our ecosystem and the excuse is always “minimal effect”. Minimal it might be but cumulatively it is disastrous.

  3. Keith Reeves Reply

    October 11, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    It would be useful if Hugh spends a little time looking at, and summarising, the relevant drawings on the council’s planning website. It will bring back memories of his old job. Some of the more emotional comments on this site and social media have been made in ignorance of some basic facts. That’s not to say that the damage to the trees is excusable.

    As you would expect there is documentation and drawings that relate to the protection of root zones. In addition I suspect many correspondents weren’t aware that the new buildings replace an existing structure which shared an almost identical footprint in the area of interest. In theory if the trees were OK in the past it should have been possible to maintain the status quo.

    Editor’s note: Keith, Thanks for the comments. There is always more to discover in the Dragon articles and we would love to spend more time on the plans but, as so often is the case, we don’t have the resources to do it.

  4. Mike Stratful Reply

    October 11, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    A heartbreaking and unnecessary loss of life.

    An atrocious and disgusting abrogation of responsibility

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