RESIDENTS’ fears that two trees are being sacrificed to make way for solar panels in council homes are unjustified, say Town Hall experts.
Oxford City Council tree officers have told residents that they are determined to cut down the pair of rowans in South Street, Osney Island, despite their objections.
Council officers say the trees have a fungal disease and are in danger of falling down.
But some residents believe the felling is linked to plans to install solar panels in a row of council flats immediately behind them, as part of a bid to make homes more energy efficient.
Residents were told that the trees must come down in a letter from city council leader Bob Price and Barbara Hammond, representing the West Oxford Community Renewables group.
The letter set out plans to install solar photovoltaic panels in the roof of the South Street council housing block to produce renewable electricity from the sun, a part of a collaboration between the community group and the council.
It heralded the move as a “classic win-win where tenants will get the electricity generated by the panels free of charge”, while the feed-in tarriff would fund further work of the local low-carbon group.
The council said replacement trees would need to be smaller “so that they do not shade the panels”.
Phillip Bradley, of West Street, Osney, put up a large board urging locals to “wake-up” to what was happening to the trees. He said: “I think it is outrageous. These people seem to think that they have a right to do whatever they want.
“I would like a second opinion to determine whether these trees are really diseased.
“They certainly look healthy to everyone. Is it worth cutting them down for the sake of solar panels? I know many people would say trees have an altogether greater beneficial impact on the local environment.”
On Monday, city council tree officer Shaun Gibson and Stuart Fitzsimmons, park and open spaces manager, met a dozen residents.
Mr Fitzsimmons said: “The trees are only coming down because they are diseased, not because of the solar panels. They have ganoderma and are unsafe. We are worried that in high winds they could come down.”
He said the disease came to light during an inspection in advance of the panels going in. Both trees would be replaced later in the year, he said.
But he declined to tell residents when the trees would be felled because of the risk of protesters occupying the trees, putting themselves and council staff at risk.
Kate Stewart, chairman of the Osney Island Residents’ Association, said: “We have reluctantly to accept that the trees are diseased, but we now have an assurance from the city parks department that local residents will be consulted about their replacements.”
Susanna Pressel, Labour city councillor for Jericho and Osney, who was involved in an unsuccessful campaign to save 12 willow trees lining the River Thames in nearby East Street three years ago, said: “It is a tragedy that these trees have to come down. In this case at least they really are diseased. But I will personally make sure that replacement trees go in as soon as possible.”