£150,000 award for tree root damage

Posted: 14th September 2012

A local authority will have to pay out more than £150,000 damages after a poplar tree in one of its parks caused subsidence damage to a home 30 metres away.

treeLocal authorities and landowners generally will have to think long and hard before planting poplars in the future after a judge found that their roots can extend for more than 35 metres.

Josephine Robbins' 1930s-build home at 6 Radnor Avenue, Welling, Kent, began to suffer cracking in 2003 and she pointed the finger at a mature hybrid black poplar in nearby Danson Park.

The cracks in her rear extension got worse over the next few years until the summer of 2007 when increased rainfall and heavy pruning of the poplar's canopy reduced the problem.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart ruled that the subsidence damage caused by the tree’s roots should have been foreseen by the London Borough of Bexley and ordered it to pay Mrs Robbins £150,081.47 damages.

The award is to compensate for the cost of repairing and underpinning her home and includes £3,000 for her ‘distress and inconvenience’.

The judge accepted that the roots of the tree, one of a line of poplars in the park, were the ‘major contributor’ to the damage to Mrs Robbins' home.

He said that the council was on notice by early 1998 that roots from the poplars had been found at distances of 33 metres from the trees. By then, the owners of at least four homes had made claims in respect of root-induced subsidence.

He said that it was reasonably foreseeable by the council that any house in Radnor Avenue with an extension within 35 metres of one of the trees was at real risk of subsidence.

Although the council could not be criticised for failing to fell the tree, the damage to the home where Mrs Robbins has lived since 1969 would probably have been prevented had a ‘proper and adequate’ system of regular pruning been put in place, he added.