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19th Oct, 2021

Rugby man fined £1,900 for damaging protected trees

A RUGBY man who submitted plans to build detached homes on land in Hillmorton Road withdrew the application after damaging protected trees on the site – for which he has had to pay fines totalling £1,900.

Four mature trees covered by a Tree Protection Order (TPO) had to be removed following work carried out by Christopher Reilly to create a new access to the properties he planned to build on the site.

Mr Reilly had submitted a planning application to Rugby Borough Council in August 2019 to build two detached houses and a new access on land to the rear of the property he owned.

The council’s arboricultural officer had submitted an objection to the plans, raising concerns about the proposed access and the risk to nearby trees, including a number covered by a TPO issued by the council in 2006.

The objection was forwarded to the planning agent working on behalf of Reilly, and when revised plans prompted a further objection from the arboricultural officer, the agent said a company was working to address the officer’s concerns.

But in July 2020 the council received a report Reilly was damaging trees on his property. When a planning officer visited the property, Reilly confirmed he had used a small mechanical digger near the trees but believed he had caused no damage to the roots.

However, when the arboricultural officer visited the site in August he noticed digging had taken place within a metre of a pair of mature beech trees and within half a metre of a mature pine tree to a depth of three-quarters of a metre.

All three trees were covered by the TPO.

A number of large roots had been severed and the digging had threatened the stability of the trees, which were near the road and posed a risk to health and safety – a point raised by the arboricultural officer in his objections to the planning application.

Reilly admitted carrying out the work but claimed to be unaware of the officer’s objections to the plans and the consequences of damaging a tree’s roots.

Two days after the officer’s visit, the planning application was withdrawn.

At Coventry Magistrates Court on Wednesday April 7, Reilly pleaded guilty to breaching the TPO, an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Magistrates heard five trees had to be removed following the unauthorised work carried out by Reilly, four of which were covered by the TPO.

In mitigation, Reilly’s solicitor told the court his client had no intention of damaging the trees and was shocked when he was told five trees needed to be taken down.

He said Reilly had planted more than 500 trees at other developments he had been involved in, and worked with the council to remove the trees and find suitable replacements.

Magistrates fined Reilly £923 for breaching the TPO and ordered him to pay the council’s costs of £885, together with a £92 victim surcharge.

Speaking after the hearing, Dan Green, Rugby Borough Council’s deputy executive director, said: “Tree Preservation Orders protect mature trees and residents need to be aware even basic maintenance of a protected tree requires prior approval from the council, including pruning, lopping or topping.

“We offer advice on how best to carry out work on protected trees, and I’d encourage residents to contact us rather than risk breaking the law and facing an expensive day in court.”

The council’s arboricultural team can be contacted by emailing treesandlandscapes@rugby.gov.uk or calling (01788) 533533.

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