19th June 2023
Cutting down trees will often factor into a developer’s plans to reshape a landscape as part of delivering a new community, but if this isn’t done by the correct routes as a recent case in London has highlighted, it can have costly repercussions. Here’s what you need to know.
A landowner and contractor have been handed a court order to pay in excess of £255,000 after illegally felling more than 270 protected trees, having been investigated and prosecuted by Enfield Borough Council.
The trees, which included yew, hawthorn oak, ash, spruce, willow and poplar, lay within a conservation area and were covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) that prohibited them from being cut down without written consent from the council.
Despite this, the three defendants were found to have cut down the trees between December 2018 and January 2019 with work halted only after the council intervened following reports from the public.
The Judge fined defendant Ali Matur £73,700 as well as £100,000 in confiscation monies under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Meanwhile, the two other defendants Robert Bush and his company Bush Wheeler Services Limited were fined £2,177.50 each, as well as a further £5,200 in confiscation between them. The defendants were also collectively ordered to pay the Council’s costs of just over £72,000.
Following the verdict, handed down by a judge at Wood Green Crown Court, Enfield Council has also served a Tree Replacement Notice under the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012. This is currently subject to appeal, but if successful, would require the replanting of 284 trees on the site.
Tree Preservation Orders
As well protection from being cut down, TPOs prohibit the uprooting, topping, lopping and the wilful damage and destruction of trees included within the order without local planning authority (LPA) consent.
While the case in Enfield involved a large number of trees, it should be remembered that the whole point of the TPO regime is the protection of trees, regardless of number, and can apply to both an area of trees and a single tree.
Landowners are liable if any of the above happens to protected trees on their land and should be very careful to confirm whether TPOs exist before taking any action. The LPA does have power to vary or revoke an order, but this needs to be obtained in advance and through official decision-making channels.
It is important to consider the strict liability around TPOs and that it doesn’t matter whether protected trees are felled in good faith, you are likely to face problems and can face legal action. As found in the case highlighted above, fines can include the remuneration of any financial gain resulting from the tree felling
Exemptions do, however, exist for carrying out work without the LPA’s consent, including on dead, dying and dangerous trees as well as to prevent or abate a nuisance. This is subject to legal definitions and advice should be sought before action is taken.
The Thrings Agriculture and Planning & Environment teams have been chosen by the NFU to act for its members in more counties than any other firm. Find out more about how we can support farmers, food producers and rural communities on our Information for Farmers page.