Thursday September 15 2022, 12.01am, The Times

A property developer must pay more than £67,000 after cutting down dozens of protected, 100-year-old oak trees in defiance of neighbours’ pleas.

James Barney, 35, proposed building two holiday cottages on the plot he had recently bought, a court was told.

People protested angrily when they were woken by the sound of diggers. They told him the trees in the woodland at Scorey’s Copse, Horton Heath, in Hampshire had a protection order.

The order meant cutting, damaging or destroying the trees was prohibited without the local planning authority’s written consent.

Barney, who lives with his parents in nearby Bursledon, said he did not know of the tree protection order (TPO) when he had them cut down. He said that he “didn’t believe” anyone who told him otherwise.

Barney was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £17,841 in legal costs after he admitted breaching tree preservation regulations. It is the largest fine yet secured by Eastleigh borough council.

He must also plant 650 new trees after being handed a replacement notice by the council. Edmund Robb, for the prosecution, told Southampton magistrates court: “On April 10 last year a neighbour came downstairs and heard a great deal of noise and saw a digger being offloaded.”

The court was told several people saw the digger start felling trees. A local councillor explained that the work should be stopped immediately but Barney continued regardless.

The court was shown a video of the scale of destruction and the contracted workers refusing to stop before building a bonfire of the wood.

“Mr Barney had plans for the site — potential for holiday homes — and has said throughout that he thought the site was not protected,” Robb said. “It is a protected woodland, he could have found out. TPOs are readily available online. Around 53 trees were cut down.”

Scott Stemp, in mitigation, said that when Barney was told about the restriction he “didn’t believe” anyone until he was sent the TPO on April 13 and the work subsequently stopped.

“I would suggest he was a man who was belligerent in wanting to be shown a copy of the TPO,” Stemp said.

District Judge Peter Greenfield said about half the copse had been cleared. It “seemed a mission” to “see how much could be cleared until the building work was stopped”, he said.

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent

Thursday September 15 2022, 12.01am, The Times