Okehampton neighbours win quest to save ‘Old Okey’

Laura White
Laura White

By Eric Partridge

A group of Okehampton residents from Meldon Fields estate have been successful in thwarting the potential chainsaw massacre of a mature oak tree affectionately christened ‘Old Okey’, after quizzing a group of ‘officials’ who appeared to be assessing the tree’s condition.

The oak tree, which has been flourishing in a hedgerow on the Crediton Road, Okehampton for as long as locals can remember, was described by one ‘official’ as “past its best”, according to Paul Gillard, who lives in nearby Kellands Lane. The same official also told Paul, “You’ve got some trees over there,” pointing to some very small, young trees on Broom Park. “I didn’t even respond to that comment because it seemed so patronising and dismissive.” said Paul.

In need of help and advice and passionate to protect ‘Old Okey’, residents turned to former mayor of Okehampton, Jan Goffey. “We had superb support from Jan,” said Joanne Poore, who lives in Broom Park, directly opposite ‘Old Okey’. “Jan was the only town council official who took the time to come round and speak to Paul and me about our concerns and to see the tree for herself. She was absolutely brilliant.”

Paul lost no time in contacting West Devon Borough Council (WDBC) to request a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), while several more neighbours followed suit prompting WDBC to issue a provisional order (N186) on 5th July. The order means that no one can fell or lop branches off the tree without permission from the council.

The Council’s Lead Member for Customer First, Cllr Annabel Roberts, said: “In response to a comment made by a third party about the possible felling of the tree, Council officers received several requests to protect it. Following an initial visual assessment, the tree was found to be in good condition and of suitable public prominence to allow the serving of a provisional Tree Preservation Order. “Residents have a 28 day period from the date of the order being served to write in to support or object to the provisional TPO. Representations will be reviewed at the end of the 28 day period before the final decision is reached as to whether to confirm the order or not.”

Joanne Poore told The Moorlander, “The tree is over the road from my house and it is so stunning. As a nature lover I will do what I can to protect it and the beauty of nature, after all what are we if we don’t care for our environment? It’s wonderful to hear the dawn chorus at this time of year and to enjoy the dappled sunset filtering through its leaves in the evening. I just love nature.”

Property developer Redrow Homes who recently acquired the western half of the large field in which ‘Old Okey’ borders, has already begun to lay the groundworks for their new development known as Romansfield and will comprise of an, as yet, undisclosed number of three and four-bedroom family homes and a Primary School.

When contacted by The Moorlander, a spokesman for Redrow Homes stated, “Redrow does not currently own the portion of land and the hedgerow within which the oak tree is sited. The Romansfield development falls several metres short of it, however there may be an opportunity to purchase that land from the current owner in the future should it become available.”

“It had really not been that clear who owned the land until recently, and therefore who owned the tree.” said Joanne. “Most residents were quite supportive about preserving the tree, interestingly when Paul and I spoke to them about applying for a TPO some thought it had already got one but they were confusing it a different tree altogether in a different road.”

Former mayor, Jan Goffey has since confirmed that both trees in question are now under TPO protection which has eased resident’s concerns. However, residents are remaining vigilant as at the time of going to press was still only three weeks into the 28 days period referred to in the above statement and as Jan Goffey discovered when BT felled a tree close to her own home which also had a TPO served on it, TPOs can often count for nothing.

“I am still worried” said Joanne Poore, “I am constantly listening out for chainsaws.”

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