Man fined £68,000 for clearing woodland without planning permission

Scorey's Copse in Horton Heath
A photograph of the woodland at Scorey's Copse in Horton Heath that was destroyed by the landowner (Image credit: Eastleigh Borough Council)

A man who destroyed ancient woodland without planning permission has been ordered to pay more than £65,000 for breaching a Tree Preservation Order.

Tree Preservation Orders, or TPOs, are an important consideration when applying for planning permission, and in some cases they can preclude development on a plot. 

In 2021, James Barney illegally cleared woodland at Scorey’s Copse in Horton Heath, Eastleigh, and pleaded guilty to breaching a TPO in February at Southampton Magistrates’ Court. 

He has now been ordered to pay Eastleigh Borough Council £50,000, as well as the council’s costs of £17,841 and a victim surcharge of £190. Eastleigh Borough Council says this is the biggest fine it has secured for breaching a TPO.

It is not entirely clear whether Mr Barney intended to build upon the land, but Cllr Nicholas Couldrey from Eastleigh Borough Council told Homebuilding & Renovating he hopes this outcome serves as a warning not to dismiss TPOs before building on a plot.

“We have to change the culture. The fact is a lot of people will take out a hedgerow or even a tree before they apply for planning permission, and most councils are getting pretty fed up with this," he said.

"We live in a very crowded country and we need strict planning laws. There’s no power to stop someone changing their back garden for private use, but if it’s for commercial development then that’s an entirely different matter."

Mr Barney’s actions were ‘unacceptable’

Mr Barney purchased the area of woodland in Scorey’s Copse for £80,000 at auction last year, which did not have any planning permission attached to it. 

Then on 12 April he began clearing the woodland by pulling down oak, ash, birch, poplar and hawthorn trees before eventually setting the wood on fire. 

Councillors moved in and took out an immediate enforcement action so that no further work could be carried out without local authority consent. The council eventually prosecuted Mr Barney under the Town & Country Planning Act. 

Paul Holmes MP described Barney's actions as "unacceptable" and added, "Now it is essential that the site can be restored fully to how it was before Mr Barney took his axe to it.”

What to know about Tree Preservation Orders

Checking whether any trees on a plot are subject to a TPO is one of our top tips for plot hunting success.

You cannot assume that you can simply cut down these trees, and in some instances a TPO might mean that you are not able to build on the land. 

If a TPO is in place and you are able to build on the land then you must consider the preservation and protection of that tree. This is important from a design perspective but also your budget because it might affect your cost when it comes to building foundations.

It's also important to note that if your home or plot of land is inside a conservation area then permission is needed from your local council to remove any tree.

Jack Woodfield
News Editor

Jack has worked in journalism for 11 years and is the News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, a role he has had since 2019. He strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and hydrogen heating. In 2021 he appeared on BBC's The World at One to discuss the government's planning reforms. 

He enjoys testing new tools and gadgets, and having bought his first home in 2013, he has renovated every room and recently finished a garden renovation.