A plot of land opposite Riddlesdown Collegiate in Honister Heights, Purley, has been cleared and a fence has recently been erected. This high metal fence has been reduced on the side facing the roadway.
In response to questions raised at our meeting in Sanderstead, Cllr Yvette Hopley updated the meeting, and promised to send further information, which she did the following day.
Cllr Hopley writes,
From my previous enquiries I have established that none of the land on which the fence has been erected is Council owned land. A related query raised by others is whether any of the land affected is classified as highway. Steve Iles has asked his officers to investigate this issue and should be able to comment on this shortly. Maps have been located by RRA which show part of the land maybe adopted highway. Discussions are continuing with the council.
At the time of our initial visit there had not been any damage to protected trees. The contractors on site and the land owners Berkshire Homes have been informed of the presence of a tree preservation order and the need for appropriate care in continuing the erection of new fencing. The clearance of brambles and small shrubs as enabling works would not be in contravention of the TPO. The fence in this location would not need a grant of planning permission provided its height does not exceed 2m.
I have examined the latest photos and note that there has been damage to mainly small specimens in the wooded area. As previously advised a tree officer had examined the where the fence was being erected; he was satisfied with his findings at that time and spoke with those erecting the fence about taking care in the proximity of protected trees
It will be helpful to set out the legislative background. The trees are not protected by individual or group preservation orders whereby the specified mature trees would be protected from the date of the order. They are protected by a woodland order and as such all trees that grow within the defined boundary lines will be preserved even after the order has been made. So the smallest of self-seeded saplings would be covered by the woodland owner. As such any damage to any tree could constitute an offence. The same rules apply for other woodland orders that are made in the general Riddlesdown area where the public are able to pass.
So in theory it would be possible to gather evidence of offences along the line of the new fence with a view to mounting a prosecution. The test in the courts would not be has there been any damage to any tree but whether or not the integrity of the woodland order has been compromised.
It is probable that some of the saplings that have been damaged would not die but would survive, even if the shape of growth is changed. This is not unusual in locations where there are woodland orders and the public have access and are able to undertake a range of recreational activities.
I shall arrange for the site to be inspected again and for any visual evidence of damage to trees to be noted. However, from the evidence I have seen to date, my initial opinion is that the integrity of the woodland order has not been compromised and that the damage is relatively minor and as such, that it would not be expedient to seek a prosecution when there would be very little chance of success.