The case involved a house that was about 30 metres away from a row of poplar trees in a local authority park. In 2003, the homeowner noticed cracks in the walls at the back of the house. More cracks appeared in 2006.
Both engineering and arboriculture experts agreed that the damage was caused by tree roots extracting moisture from the clay subsoil beneath the foundations. The authority denied that the trees were to blame.
The High Court, which first heard the case, found in favour of the homeowner. The court heard evidence that the council’s own records showed that there had been claims of root damage in four other nearby houses from as early as 1997.
It was therefore reasonably foreseeable that the trees could cause further subsidence. That being the case, the authority should have embarked on a programme of ‘crown reduction’ to reduce the size of the trees and so minimise their potential for causing damage.
The authority did begin such a programme in 2006 but it should have done so as far back as 1998. If it had, it would have prevented the subsequent damage.
The court held that the authority was liable for damage caused by subsidence to the homeowner’s property between 2003 and 2006.
The council took the case to Court of Appeal, which upheld the judge’s decision, saying his robust and common sense reasoning could not be faulted.