Residents' anger over tree destruction at Wigan school

Residents outside St John Fisher RC High School
Residents outside St John Fisher RC High School
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A Wigan secondary school and nearby residents are in dispute after mature trees along the front entrance were felled for safety reasons.

Residents on Baytree Road in Beech Hill, who live opposite St John Fisher RC High School, are up in arms after a dozen or so large specimens were cut down during the recent half-term break.

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They say the trees provided useful screening and a sound absorber and also helped to improve security by blocking direct views into houses and classrooms alike.

The school, however, has issued a strong defence in which it said security made the tree chopping necessary and it is part of a programme of necessary expansion and renovation works which are popular with staff and parents.

That is unlikely to placate the school’s neighbours, though, who are also complaining that while they were warned of building work there had been no consultation about the tree cutting.

Brian Heeley, one of the Baytree Road residents, said: “The trees were right up against the front of the school and they must have been there for decades.

“They were planted as screening and quite nice, with a mix of types. They were also a haven for wildlife with lots of birds nesting in them.

“We got a letter round saying there would be some disturbance while they were doing work on the canteen and the interior of the school but didn’t mention anything about cutting down all the trees.

“A couple of us decided to speak to the residents on Baytree Road and quite a few said how upset they were as they had enjoyed watching the birds flying round.

“The difference the work has made is quite staggering. It used to look quite pleasant and now we’ve got the front of a 1950s school building. You also won’t see a school much closer to houses than St John Fisher is to us.

“There’s also a loss of privacy. Some residents can now be seen even in their own back gardens because the street is on quite a steep hill, which is ridiculous.

“The trees also shielded some of the noise from the school. Since the trees have gone I’ve been able to hear sound in the classrooms which has never happened before.”

Mr Heeley says a number of residents have asked for meetings with head teacher Alison Rigby to express their concern about the works.

Mrs Rigby, though, said that while she understood there were some concerns the changes were all necessary.

She said: “I am sorry that some of our neighbours on Baytree Road are unhappy about trees and shrubs being removed from the front of the school.

However, this is part of our extensive school improvement programme to create a safer and more inviting environment for everyone in school. The trees had become a health and safety risk as they were obstructing our CCTV coverage and there were concerns that the roots were damaging the drains.

“We are currently having a new canteen extension built which is the start of renovating the school site to improve facilities for our community.

“Several parents have said how much better the front of the school looks and commented on the improved safety and security of the site now that it’s more open and visible.

“We are committed to improving St John Fisher to create a school which fully serves the needs of our pupils and gives them the best life chances possible. Part of this work is on the school environment and facilities.

“This reflects the improvements we are making to all aspects of the work of the school. St John Fisher is an ambitious and improving school and our pupils deserve the best.”