When Sean Callaghan and Adele Hunter bought their ‘forever’ home in Withington, they wanted to raise their two young children in the same area they had both grown up.
But what they hadn’t planned for was tears, sleepless nights and a battle with the city council to save the very foundations the house is built on from crumbling away.
Having had a bid accepted for their first home last July, the couple commissioned a survey of the property on the corner of Parsonage Road and Shireoak Road which unearthed several issues.
A structural engineer told them the ground beneath the house was giving way due to a lack of moisture in the soil, causing visible cracks on the building itself.
The cause of the subsidence was attributed to the three 13-metre high mature trees, two Copper Beech and one Lime, sitting in the garden. Their roots have also blocked some of the drains.
“We were really shocked and worried about some of the issues the engineer found but they said the issues would go away after a year once the trees are taken out,” Sean says.
His fiancée Adele, 32, explains keeping the trees would mean that the entire foundations would need to be underpinned in order to save it. “We were given a £40k quote for the job,” she says.
The concerned couple contacted Manchester council’s planning department in October to check if they could have the trees taken down.
They were told that their house was not in a conservation area and that there were no tree protection orders (TPOs) on the trees.
Sean, also 32, adds: “On that basis, we went ahead with the sale. We moved in on November 13, Friday the 13th funnily enough, so not the best date in the world."
The couple booked a tree surgeon to fell the trees – only to be told that they could not be chopped down as they had TPOs on them.
Their only remaining option was to challenge the TPO made by the city arborist, which remains provisional until it is signed off by the council’s planning committee.
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Sean says: “We were so close to pulling out of the sale and decided to go ahead only to be told about the TPO after the fact. We feel like we’ve been set up to fail.
“We are now facing the prospect of having to sell the home if the TPO is confirmed, we feel like we’ve been driven out.”
According to Manchester council the structural report suggests that the trees ‘have the potential' to cause subsidence ‘with no real proof given’, and have suggested that a TPO would allow long-term monitoring to be carried out to see if the situation gets worse.
But already cracks have begun to appear around door and window frames , with a ‘significant’ one appearing on the wall outside Sean and Adele’s daughter’s bedroom.
Adele says: “We were excited to move to the area where me and Sean met and essentially grew up and then we’ve been hit with this
“It’s taken the excitement out of being in our forever home. I’ve been in tears a lot over it, there’s been sleepless nights because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
They fear the damage will only get worse the longer the trees stay in place, which could affect the value of the property if they tried to sell.
Sean has also volunteered to replant new trees in nearby Ladybarn Park to mitigate against the loss of the ones in his garden.
He adds: “Our argument is that we’ve been monitoring the damage ourselves since July and it’s getting worse.
“They want to monitor it for 18 months, what happens when it’s worse but it doesn’t fit the council’s criteria. What are we waiting for?”
With some trepidation the couple decided to start a petition in order to share their story with residents of Parsonage Road and nearby Shireoak Road.
“We didn’t want to upset people or cause any problems,” Adele says.
“People on social media were talking about the TPO and saying they wanted it and that’s when we decided to explain the situation.
“It’s not just that we moved in and wanted to take them out in a selfish way, it’s a necessary evil to keep our family safe.”
They were also backed by Withington councillors Chris Wills and Rebecca Moore, who submitted objections to the tree protection orders.
But some residents living in the area want the provisional TPO to be signed off, with 10 people writing emails of support to Manchester council.
When the application went before the planning committee on February 18 the meeting heard from Sam Brook, a resident who made the case to the city arborist to protect five trees in the area – including those in Sean and Adele’s garden.
While accepting that remedial work needed to be done to the house, Mr Brook suggested that less harmful methods – such as pruning – should be explored instead of moving straight to cutting the trees down.
Mr Brook, who said the trees could be over 90 years old, told councillors: “It’s a very difficult situation for Mr Callaghan and his family and I certainly feel for them.
“But over the last five years I’ve seen many of these trees being felled and I decided that something needed to be done.
“Speaking to residents who have lived in the area for decades, they also felt the same.
“The five trees are absolutely essential to maintaining the feeling of the tree-lined street we have.”
Withington councillor Chris Wills told the committee that he was unable to support the TPO as the trees were having a ‘severe impact on the lives of a young family’.
Councillors were divided on the issue, expressing a desire to keep the trees but also admitting unease about putting extra financial pressures on Sean and Adele.
The committee decided to defer making a decision until they could receive more information – including the report of the surveyor who told the couple that the trees were causing subsidence.
With uncertainty still surrounding their future Sean and Adele say they now need to spend more money to gather more evidence to support their case, which could also be taken up with the Secretary of State if they lose their appeal.
“We might not even be able to sell it because of the situation we’re in, we might be forced to stay in a property which will continue to be damaged,” said Sean.
“There’s not much else we can do, we’re between a rock and a hard place.”