JUST weeks ago a giant tree crashed through their garden fence, narrowly missing motorists on a nearby road.

After it fell, experts deemed the 30ft diseased oak too dangerous to leave as it was and cut it down to a four-metre tall leafless stump.

But Nicky and Keith Smith are frightened that it could fall again as they have been told it must stay in their garden as it is still under a tree preservation order (TPO) which has been in place since 1974.

The order means the couple from Canterbury Avenue, Sholing, must ask permission from Southampton City Council before any work is carried out on the 200-year-old tree, despite it having bracket fungi, which can decay and weaken trees from the inside.

Nicky, 46, a driver and mum-of-three, said: “I’m worried that the rest of it will come down and hurt someone as behind my fence is a road and a pavement.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I assumed they were going to take the rest down to just a small stump but they have left the damaged part of the tree and a big chunk above.

“They said that’s what they count as safe because there are no leaves on it so it won’t catch in the wind but it was a beautiful day when it fell so you can’t say that it’s not going to happen again.

“I want them to reduce the bill and take the preservation order off so we can get rid of it properly.”

The couple were charged £2,617 for the workers to come out and clear the leaves and smaller branches, which they say is too much.

The council said the tree preservation order is still in place because the remaining pollard – a tree with all its leaves and dead branches removed – is still alive.

They are investigating whether the tree is in a dangerous state.

A spokesman said: “The remaining part of the tree has a tree preservation order because it is still alive – technically it would be classed as what is called a ‘heavy pollard’.

“Because the tree is under a TPO, were it to be felled and removed completely, the normal procedure would be for it to be replaced by a young tree of a similar type.

“If the householder wishes to fell the remaining stem, it can be removed if it is regarded as being imminently dangerous, but the onus of proof would be upon the householder, or by giving the council five days’ notice if it is considered dangerous, but not an imminent threat. If neither of these applies, the tree owner can apply for its removal.”

Across Southampton, there are 517 TPOs in force which cover 3,927 trees.