Wellingborough councillors found out on 9th February that up to 61 healthy mature lime trees were due to be felled from The Walks, starting on 20th Feb 2023, and by the time this filtered down to residents, we had less than a weeks notice to mobilise support. Straight away two Town Councillors and many local people, swung into action to make others aware of the travesty that was about to befall our community and the historic avenue of lime trees, which is a renowned feature of our town.
We were shocked that so many of these beautiful trees, all of which are the subject of Tree Preservation Orders (TPO), were due to be felled to enable the expansion of the Tesco’s roundabout on London Road. We set up a petition, established an informal collective of individuals called the Wellingborough Walks Action Group, and within days we called an urgent protest on Thursday 16th February where more than a 100 people from our town came out on a cold morning to launch the campaign to ‘SAVE OUR TREES’. The petition has now been signed by over 8000 people, if you haven’t already sign here!
This video shows the protest on 16th February and all the trees before any were felled.
Before the felling date we had hoped that common sense would prevail and that North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) and the developer, Vistry (more commonly known as Bovis Homes) would realise they had made a mistake and call off the felling, but despite being presented with a petition signed by thousands of residents and the Town Council declaring that cutting down the tree was illegal, that didn’t happen. Monday 20th February arrived and so did the eager contractors determined to fell our beloved trees, but local residents were equally determined to peacefully stop them.
For many days, despite the poor odds, our committed campaigners came out to protest in all weathers and put themselves in harms way to save these beautiful trees, resulting in 4 local residents being arrested including an 84 year old man from the town. 14 out of the planned 38 trees that were due to be felled got cut down. Hundreds of people wrote letters to councillors and MP Peter Bone, who took it upon himself to call for a pause in parliament and meet with the leader of North Northamptonshire Council, Jason Smithers, to arrange a meeting with the developers.
The second week even saw protestors get more organised and more determined, but on Monday contractors still tore the limbs off of two trees. Behind the scenes, Councillor Marion Turner-Hawes and many others followed legal advice and lobbied stake holders and decision makers. Our barrister, Paul Powlesland, after getting so frustrated with police for not stopping this unlawful act, climbing one of the trees himself on the Tuesday. Contractors sneakily cut down one of the trees that they had wrecked, but Paul stayed in his tree for over 8 hours in the freezing cold gaining national notoriety in order to highlight this appalling injustice.
Wednesday saw another tree climber, Marly Lyman from Northampton Extinction Rebellion, take roost and more determined protestors not moving. With this we convinced police to make the contractors halt works until a meeting Marion and Paul were having with Jason Smithers had finished, which took much longer than anticipated. It concluded with the council leader asking contractors to stop cutting down trees and they agreed to wait for the meeting to take place on Friday.
After these exceptional interventions and following the efforts of our tireless protestors delaying the contractors at every opportunity, the unitary authority (NNC) and local MP, Peter Bone, managed to broker a temporary pause in the tree felling with the developer, but not before we had heartbreakingly lost 15 healthy trees, many of which were 120 years old, changing our townscape and destroying part of this country’s longest avenue of trees for ever.
Wellingborough Town Council held an extraordinary meeting on Thursday 9th March over the controversial tree felling on The Walks. There was near total condemnation by local residents of North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) and Vistry at the meeting, the council were called “disgraceful” and denounced for their “lack of response” over their actions surrounding the felling of iconic lime trees. Over 220 people crammed into the Sir Christopher Hatton Academy in Wellingborough, but there were no representatives from the developers Vistry Group or from NNC at the meeting.
Battle lines were drawn as Wellingborough Town Council ‘demanded’ to see tree felling decision evidence and resolved to condemn the felling. After hearing powerful speeches from local residents (watch them on the video below) and many of the questions submitted, Councillors Valerie Anslow and Marion Turner-Hawes proposed a motion where it was decided to take all steps to protect the trees still standing on London Road and to create a town-wide Tree Preservation Policy where residents would be asked to help find trees around Wellingborough they believe are significant enough to deserve protection under law. Wellingborough Town Council agreed to:
- Demand that NNC supply a clear and transparent audit trail of all planning and highways decisions concerning Route 2 and ‘The Walks’ by the end of March 2023.
- Commit to taking all necessary steps within its powers to safeguard all the protected trees in The Walks in Wellingborough.
- Create a town-wide Tree Preservation Policy and work with the local community and partners to identify and apply for Tree Preservation Orders for all significant Wellingborough Trees.
Campaigners and the Town Council have welcomed the temporary reprieve, but Vistry are not done. They have paused to allow time to hold a community exhibition to explain their plans for the area, but have vowed to return and fell more of these beautiful trees so they can deliver it. Upwards of 25 more trees could still be lost within days of their public consultation event.
Over the past couple of weeks, Wellingborough residents have came together to save our trees, and for that time we denied the developer the 61 trees they intended to fell. We have made them pause the work, and limited their destruction to 15 trees, saving 46; but we now want to save these trees permanently for future generations of our community to enjoy. To protect the remaining trees on The Walks we need everyone’s help. To lose 15 trees is too many, if you don’t want to see any more chopped down, help us SAVE OUR TREES!
We believe the felling of these trees is and has been unlawful as the trees are protected by Tree Preservation Orders from 2016. But Vistry, backed by North Northamptonshire Council, have argued that their work is exempt from the TPO rules and that they can fell the trees legally. Planning evidence from the old Borough Council of Wellingborough, shows that up to 11 trees might have to be felled to make way for this work, no planning documents have been made available to approve more trees being cut down.
We have sought legal advice and we believe the exemption the developer is relying on does not apply and as a result the felling is unlawful and they are committing a criminal offence. We see that the only way we can prove this action is unlawful is to take the case to court, to seek an injunction to permanently stop the tree felling for good! This is what we plan to do and we need your help to raise the funds to do this.
We aim to raise £12,000 to safely take the legal action we need to save The Walks, will you help us? Our Crowdfunder will be set up soon and when it is please donate what you can, small or large, and let‘s show the developer and the unitary council that the people of our town are not prepared to stand by and see our trees and The Walks trashed in this appalling way, and that we are determined to SAVE OUR TREES and protect our natural heritage for local residents and generations to come.
Thank you for your support!