A Council will have to pay more than £150,000 damages after a poplar tree in one of its parks caused subsidence damage to a home 33 yards away. Josephine Robbin’s thirties-built home in 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 the extension at the back of the house 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 should have been foreseen by the London Borough of Bexley and ordered it to pay Mrs Robbins more than £150,000 damages, including £3,000 for her “distress and inconvenience”.

In a ruling running to more than 170 paragraphs, and after hearing a welter of expert evidence, the judge said roots of hybrid poplars can extend up to 38 yards and accepted that the tree was the “major contributor” to the damage to Mrs Robbins’s home.

He said the Council was on notice by early 1998 that roots from the line of poplars in the park had been found 33 yards away.  By then, the owners of at least four homes had made claims in respect of root-induced subsidence.

He said it was reasonably foreseeable by the Council that any house in Mrs Robbins’s street with an extension within 38 yards of one of the trees was at real risk of subsidence.

Although the council could not be criticised for failing to fell the trees, 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.

This provides a timely reminder to all those who own or who manage property that the potential for damage by tree roots is real and that if you do not manage your trees appropriately you can be liable.

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