Trees have been chopped down at a Tottenham primary school as part of an operation to clean up buried asbestos.

Eleven trees were removed from Ferry Lane Primary School in Erskine Crescent amid fears the harmful material – which can cause fatal health problems – was buried under mounds of soil on the site.

Haringey Council said “one small fragment” of asbestos had so far been found.

Jeanette Sitton, nature officer for Ferry Lane Estate, claimed the council had opted for the “cheapest way possible” of getting rid of the asbestos.

She said it could have dealt with the contamination without pulling out 11 mature trees.

But the council said cutting down the trees was “absolutely the most appropriate action”, ensuring any buried asbestos could be removed during the school holidays while children are not on site.

It added that taking out the soil involved cutting the tree roots – which had grown into the mounds – making the trees unstable and creating a potential safety hazard if they were not removed.

The removals were agreed between the council, the headteacher and the school governors.

More than 11 trees will be planted at the school to replace the ones that have been felled.

Cllr Zena Brabazon, cabinet member for children and families, said: “The works have been carried out as a pre-emptive step during the summer holidays to ensure any asbestos – which was buried below the surface – was dealt with while the children were away.

“There has only been a tiny fragment of asbestos found in the excavated land so far. I want to reiterate that this was a precautionary measure to avoid the possibility of contaminants becoming exposed in the future as the land erodes.

“This was our priority and I am completely satisfied that we and the school have taken the right steps. There will be even more trees once the works have finished.”

There is currently an asbestos-qualified person carrying out daily tests at the school, and the council said work to remove contaminated soil will be finished before the autumn term starts.

A letter will be sent to school parents when term starts to explain the work that has been carried out.