A PROPERTY developer who lives in a £2.3m home tore down a 100-year-old woodland and planned to build holiday lets on the land, a court heard.
James Barney, 35, was met with angry opposition in April last year when neighbours awoke to sounds of diggers tearing down trees at Scorey’s Copse, Horton Heath.
Around 53 protected oak trees were cut down despite the protests of councillors and residents and later attempts were then made to set them alight.
But now a court has heard how Barney planned to build two holiday lets on the plot he had recently bought.
Appearing at Southampton Magistrates’ Court, Barney, who was said to have “access to a rich sea of funding” said he didn’t know of the Tree Preservation Order (TPO) when he chopped them down.
But prosecuting barrister Edmund Robb told the court: “Mr Barney had plans for the site – potential for holiday homes – and has said throughout that he thought the site was not protected by a TPO after checking ‘magic maps’.
“It is a protected woodland – he could have found out, TPOs are readily available online for members of the public to find, but he didn’t.”
Mitigating, Scott Stemp said when Barney was told about the protection, he ‘didn’t believe’ it – until he was sent the TPO on the morning of April 13, when work subsequently stopped.
“I would suggest he was a man who was belligerent in wanting to be shown a copy of the TPO”, he added.
District Judge Peter Greenfield said: “I don’t accept that Mr Barney was not an expert in planning matters and didn’t know what was going on.
“He bought the land with the intention of developing either a large house or two holiday lets – either way to make a profit.
“The harm caused members of the public distress and clearly there was a disturbance to the woodland.”
He added that Barney, who lives with his parents in a £2.3m house in nearby Bursledon, has “somewhat opaque” finances, and that “he can pay any fine the court imposes”.
Barney was fined £50,000, after pleading guilty to breaching tree preservation regulations.
He was also ordered to pay the £17,841 legal costs of Eastleigh Borough Council and a £190 victim surcharge – bringing the total to £68,031.
He has also been handed a tree replacement notice by the council – meaning he has to plant 650 new trees to replace the ones he uprooted.
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