CUTTING down trees was the subject of a socially distanced protest on Headley Way today (April 27).

Residents of the road were angry that Oxford Direct Services, a company owned by Oxford City Council, had started cutting down 11 trees along the road.

But the company said the trees' roots had been damaged due to work as part of the ongoing Access to Headington project.

Roz Smith, a local councillor on both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, said residents had been given no notice before the work began.

Ms Smith said the decision to cut down the trees was 'all about poor communication' in her understanding.

The Lib Dem councillor added: "These trees were not on the list to be felled, they were to be retained."

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Oxfordshire County Council's Access to Headington Scheme included plans for a segregated cycle path along Headley Way.

The work is being carried out by the county council's roads contractor, a company called Skanska.

Ms Smith said she and residents on Headley Way had met with county council chiefs to discuss which trees should be kept along the route.

But last year, Oxford Direct Services took over a separate contract for tree maintenance along highways in Oxfordshire from Skanska, and did a survey of the trees along Headley Way.

Ms Smith added: "When ODS started cutting a tree down in March this year, residents were rightly shocked and contacted their city councillors.

"We were assured that it was just one odd tree that was in a poor state and had to be cut down."

Oxford Mail:

Roz Smith protesting on Headley Way today. Picture: Roz Smith

But ODS said all 11 trees now set for the chop had sustained 'significant root damage' due to the works along the cycleway before they took over as the tree maintenance contractor.

The company said it was left with 'no choice' but to cut them down.

Ms Smith said there was a feeling among some residents that the work was being done during the lockdown in an attempt to avoid local anger.

Nigel Chapman, Oxford City Council's cabinet member for customer focused services, is the elected councillor with responsibility over ODS.

Mr Chapman said: "No-one likes to see us having to chop down and uproot trees in any part of the city, but when it becomes clear they have become damaged and there is professional advice about that, we have to act in the interests of safety."

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He added: "I think we need to encourage all those involved to replace the trees as soon as they possibly can, provided that is practical to do so."

Police drove down Headley Way road this morning and told the group of residents protesting to disperse, though they were all stood two meters apart and some were wearing masks.

Access to Headington is an ongoing roadworks scheme by Oxfordshire County Council.

It was originally due to be completed in March 2019.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: "The county council, as the highway authority, has an agreement with the city council where they undertake highway maintenance in the city boundary through Oxford Direct Services.

“The trees on Headley Way have been assessed to be a risk and ODS is currently working to make the area safe for the public and residents by removing the trees. The work has now been paused."