It seemed an uncontroversial way to “spruce up” a communal garden. But the decision by a residents’ association to plant quince and plum trees on the shared lawn in Little Venice led to a seven-year battle that ended in court.
Vanessa Sego, 67, and her daughter Christina, 42, said the 50 fruit trees planted by the Warwick Crescent Residents’ Association filled their home with pollen and looked like a “dingy forest”.
They cut 11 trees and bushes down to stumps with a hacksaw, leading to a confrontation with a resident who threw himself over the survivors to protect them. The Segos then withheld more than £1,360 in service charges owed to Westminster council, which took them to court.
A spokeswoman for the Warwick Crescent Residents’ Association said “we just wanted fruit trees to spruce things up” and said she had been “shocked” by the mother and daughter’s actions.
She said: “It was to encourage more people to use the garden in the block, which is rare to have in central London. The quince bush had flowered last year with a pink blossom for the first time. But they were chopped. We just wanted a nice garden area for summer. But the family didn’t like them being planted. I was shocked that they took matters into their own hands.”
The Segos kept back two instalments owed to Westminster council in service charges for their apartment because they “felt they had no rights as a leaseholder”.
Christina said: “Why could they go on a tree-planting frenzy when I could not remove them? They had a right to plant them but we have no rights as leaseholders to take them away. It is not like the lawn was properly landscaped by the residents, it now looks like an amateurish mess. It has hugely affected how we enjoy the space that we pay for as part of our service charges. That is why we withheld them.”
However, a county court judge ruled in the council’s favour and the Segos have paid up. In a joint statement from Westminster council and City West Homes, Rachael Robathan, cabinet member for housing, said: “The resident committee that planted the fruit trees were at liberty to do so, and there are no reasonable grounds to remove the trees at this time.”