Towering problem for historic church divides city

The remaining 100-year-old black poplar in front of the West door of Holy Trinity church, Hull
The remaining 100-year-old black poplar in front of the West door of Holy Trinity church, Hull
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FOR years it has dominated the skyline outside one of the region’s finest buildings.

But now the days of a towering Italian black poplar which stands outside Holy Trinity Church in Hull could be numbered, with church officials keen to have it cut down.

While the 100-year-old tree is considered “stately and attractive” in the eyes of council officers, church officials believe it is a risk to people’s health and safety and the structure of the medieval church.

The church is seeking permission to fell the “over mature” tree at a meeting next week, arguing that its roots have not only disturbed the laid gravestones in the churchyard, but also threaten to undermine the very foundations of the building.

Some years ago a limb of the tree came crashing down during a gale, crushing a car, and an expert bought in by the church has warned there is a real possibility another could fall.

Last time the church tried for permission to cut it down, councillors placed a tree preservation order on it, and planning officers are recommending the latest application should be refused and the tree crowned instead, giving it an extra 20-year lease of life.

Church officials would like to see field maples planted instead.

Vicar Dr Neal Barnes said the city council would be liable for any accidents caused by the tree as it stands in a “closed” churchyard that no longer takes burials.

He said: “The question has to be asked, if it is seriously in danger of causing a major accident, if the roots are in danger of undermining the west end of the church, would you preserve a tree that is not going to last much longer, another 20 years, or a 700-year-old building?

“It will upset some people, but I think this is the least worst option.”

Churchwarden Tim Wilson said early photographs indicated the tree was at least 100 years old, adding: “Its roots are now lifting the paving up beyond the chained off area and we can’t get all the congregation’s vehicles into the churchyard.

“It is a lovely big tree but it is not true to form because it was pollarded some 30/40/50 years ago and it is actually damaging the foundations of Hull’s civic church.”

Planners are, however, in favour of keeping the tree stating: “Notwithstanding previous pollarding, the specimen occupies an extremely prominent position in one of the key public spaces in the city which it benefits with a stately and attractive presence.

“The tree makes a significant positive contribution in amenity terms to the special character of this part of the Old Town Conservation Area and the setting of numerous Grade 11 listed buildings the Grade 11 star listed Old Grammar School and most particularly the Grade 1 listed Holy Trinity Church, arguably the most significant building in the city.”

David Longthorn, from Hull Friends of the Earth, who has been planting trees in the Wyke and Riverside area of the city since 2004, went and had a look at the tree the other day and concludes it is in the wrong place.

He said: “It will have to be replaced in another position by trees and a greater number, three to one, would be a reasonable compromise.”

Terry Keal, a councillor on the planning committee, who was an horticulturalist at the council for 40 years, said he was not a great fan of poplars.

He said he had not made up his mind how he’d be voting at the meeting, but added: “There are very few trees in the centre of the city, particularly a tree of this type, and it does make a big difference to the setting.

“I am not particularly struck on poplars – I do like their height and the way they grow, but I do feel in some locations they are maybe out of place.”