‘Heritage oak tree must not be felled’

A 250 year old oak tree is at the centre of the latest row over the development of the former St Christopher’s School site in Westbury Park.

The 14 metre high oak is due to be felled as part of plans to develop the site into 116 retirement flats. 

Campaigners from St Christopher Action Network (SCAN) say Bristol City Council tree experts have just realised the oak is a “heritage” tree – which under the planning rules must be preserved.

And Bristol Tree Forum say the “magnificent” tree has “enormous ecological value” and must not be felled.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “The applicant has been made aware of the oak tree in question on this site. The planning application remains under consideration.”

At the time of going to print, the developers – investment firm FORE, in partnership with developer Socius, and care provider Amicala – have not commented.

The planning application was expected to be discussed by Bristol’s Development Control committee on April 26, but that did not happen, and the Voice been told the application is now “unlikely” to be considered at the next meeting, on May 30th.

SCAN say the developers propose felling the oak to make way for a spa for future residents of the retirement village.

A spokesperson said it was one of the oldest trees in the Down Conservation area and its status as a ’veteran’ or heritage tree means it gets special protection under planning laws. 

“It’s unbelievable that anyone is even considering felling such a magnificent old oak tree – and all to build a luxury spa! This is a woeful example of the lack of respect by the developers for our local nature and wildlife – they remain determined to maximise every inch of land for profit by building all over it and destroying our community’s ecological heritage.”

“This oak tree cannot, and should not, be lost for our community. It has potentially hundreds of years of life left in it – and should be saved from felling, along with the many other mature trees across the site that are threatened by this insensitive development. These proposals are an environmental nightmare on so many levels and should be thrown out.”

John Tarlton, from the Bristol Tree Forum, said the plan to fell the tree was “a disgrace”.

He said: “It’s complete fantasy to think that it can be replaced with a few saplings as the developers are suggesting. You can never replace the time it takes to grow an old tree like this and we need our trees now.”

“Veteran trees are classified according to age, large stature and, ironically, signs of advanced age such as presence of fungi, extensive decay, hollow stems, rot, invertebrate activity, and dead wood. 

He said an arboricultural report done on the tree in 2017 demonstrated many of these signs.

At the time of going to print Bristol City Councillor for Westbury on Trym and Henleaze Geoff Gollop said he was still trying to get further information about the tree.

He said: “My understanding is that there is a potential veteran tree, but opinions differ. I understand if it definitely is, that the applicant would have to change their plan, but I am unclear what happens if there is uncertainty.

“These repeated delays are unsatisfactory for the applicant and the hundreds of local residents concerned about the impact of the building on their homes and their community.”

Councillor Steve Smith said he understood the status of the tree may be causing delays in the planning process. 

He said: “I believe that the developers and the planners are discussing it, but I’m not party to that conversation so I don’t know where it might end up.

 “Our position hasn’t changed, which is that we’re not opposed in principle to the site being developed as a retirement facility, but we support the many residents who are concerned about the impact of the current plans, particularly in terms of transport and parking.  

“We have objected to the proposed development as it stands.”

The proposals to develop the St Christopher’s School site have been widely opposed by local people with more than 1300 objections submitted during the consultation process.