A PROPERTY developer has been slapped with a £68,000 fine after ignoring desperate pleas from his neighbours to not chop down dozens of historic trees.
Fuming residents living beside the protected woodland in Horton Heath, Hants, say they are "devastated" by the "eyesore" left by James Barney.
The 35-year-old – who had "access to a rich sea of funding" – planned to build two holiday lets on the plot of land, a court heard.
Barney was faced with a tirade of anger as his neighbours, awoken by a digger and building works, attempted to tell him the oak trees had a Tree Protection Order (TPO).
But he ignored their frantic pleas and went ahead with slashing down the oaks that stood in an area of woodland at Scoreys Copse, all of which were more than 100 years old.
Barney, who lives with his parents in a £2.3m house in nearby Bursledon, claimed he didn't know of the TPO when he hacked them down – and "didn't believe" anyone that told him otherwise.
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The TPO meant the cutting, damage or destruction of the trees was prohibited without the local planning authority’s written consent.
Barney has been hit with a £50,000 fine as well as £17,841 in legal and a £190 victim surcharge costs following a hearing at Southampton Magistrates Court – bringing the total to £68,031.
But outraged local residents believe the damage caused could be irreversible as they expressed fears for the wildlife which has had its habitats destroyed.
Debbie Lowe, landlady of nearby pub the Brigadier Gerard, said she was woken up by the "horrendous cracking noise" when Barney's team began felling at 5am on April 10 last year.
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The 48-year-old told The Sun Online: “It sounded like war of the worlds. I can’t believe he managed to do this.
“Everyone is devastated. Trees that were hundreds of years old just aren’t there anymore. It's so sad we won’t see those replanted trees restored in our lifetime.”
She branded the gap in the woodland an "eyesore" and told of her concern for the wildlife there.
Debbie added: “It was nesting season when they were cut down. And there will be no more bluebells or snowdrops there now. It’s just so sad, it’s a tree graveyard.”
Sam Allen, a commercial artist who lives opposite the site, said it was the "nail in the coffin" in his decision to now move away from the area.
He said he was glad to see Barney – who has been ordered to plant 650 new trees to replace the ones he uprooted – taken to court.
Sam, 57, added: “It feels like justice has been done. It’s a relief now it's all over.
"Before it looked like a large garden – if they hadn’t been stopped who knows how far they would have gone?”
As per Barney's tree replacement notice he must clear and replant the area – with at least 37 mature oaks of 2.5m height.
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It is estimated to cost between £25,000 and £30,000, which his parents will pay.
He cut down around 53 trees – but according to prosecuting barrister Edmund Robb "that does not account for the potentially thousands" as "in law, a tree could be a sapling".
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