RESIDENTS fighting to protect a 160-year-old protected beech tree in the grounds of a church have been dealt a new blow.

Last month locals in Tockholes staged a last-gasp protest to prevent Electricity North West workmen from cutting down the tree at the United reformed Church, Chapel Lane.

Andrew Rosthorn, 68, parked his car under the branches in a successful bid to stop the tree surgeons.

The row centred on the utility firm overruling a council-imposed tree preservation order by exploiting a health and safety exemption about potential access to overhead power lines.

Now, following a further meeting between the firm and the United Reformed Church on September 5, members voted unanimously in favour of removing the tree.

And, according to a letter to Mr Rosthorn from Electricity North West chief executive officer Steve Johnson, the church members have asked for the timber to be left to be handed out through the village.

Mr Rawstorn said he was ‘appalled’ by the offer. “They sound like landlords from the middle ages. Do they think we villagers are poor men gathering winter fuel?"

In a letter to villagers, Blackburn with Darwen Council head of planning Neil Rodgers said the council ‘could not force’ the utility firm to preserve the tree.

He wrote: “The council considers that the tree provides a high level of amenity to the area, which is the reason why the council protected the tree in 2003.

“The council would normally consider that power lines should be rerouted or insulated with a sleeve to prevent danger."

However, while a spokesman for ENW did confirm a vote had been taken to remove the tree, they insisted it ‘was not the end of the story’.

He said: “We are still consulting on the issue and we are also investigating if there are any other options available, suggested to us by local people, which might mean the tree does not have to be felled. We have never wished to cause upset to local people. Our principal concern has always been to improve safety and reduce the likelihood of power cuts.”