A developer, who illegally felled 27 protected trees in Farnborough, ended up more than £8,000 out of pocket after appearing in court last Thursday (11 April).

Abbi Guy Soufi (64) of Frimley Green Road, Camberley, admitted a charge of cutting down 27 trees, the subject of Tree Preservation Order 466(A), contrary to Section 210(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, when he appeared before Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court.

He was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay Rushmoor Borough Council’s costs of £2,886 and a victim surcharge of £170. He will also have to re-plant the trees he felled.

The court heard from Rushmoor Borough Council’s prosecuting counsel, Syan Ventom, that the tree felling took place on land to the north and east of Geneva House in Gladiator Way, Farnborough, over the weekend of 9 and 10 June 2018, and was reported by several members of the public. An arboricultural officer from Rushmoor Borough Council visited the site on 12 June 2018 and revisited on 26 June and noted that 23 mature and semi-mature oak trees and four mature sycamore trees had been chopped down.

After some difficulties tracing Mr Soufi, the landowner, he was eventually interviewed under caution on 14 November and the council decided to prosecute him.

The court heard that he had bought the land at an auction on 23 May 2018, with a view to building a retirement complex and a swimming pool.

In mitigation, Mr Kevin Izod, acting for Mr Soufi, claimed that although a TPO for the site had been registered on 20 June 2016 and confirmed in December 2016, the confirmation document was not on the council’s website. Therefore, he claimed, it would have been reasonable to assume the TPO had lapsed, if anyone had checked the council’s website.

However, legally, councils do not have to place all TPOs and confirmation documents on their website and developers are expected to make first-hand checks directly with the land charges section on this. The court was told that Rushmoor Borough Council had no record of any check being made, which would have shown the confirmation of the TPO was made on 13 December 2016.

Rushmoor Borough Council’s Head of Economy, Planning and Strategic Housing, Tim Mills said: “The onus is on any responsible developer to carry out a proper check directly with our land charges section before carrying out any work on trees in a protected area. Mr Soufi clearly did not do so. He could have saved himself thousands of pounds with a simple phone call or a visit – and this would have prevented the decimation of these valuable, protected trees. We will be making sure every one of these trees is replaced.

“Hopefully this will serve as a warning that we take the protection of our borough’s natural environment, green space and trees very seriously.”