Media release - issued 07 Aug 2017

Big fine for company that ignored TPOs and cut down trees

Rushmoor Borough Council has successfully brought a prosecution against the owners of Potters International Hotel in Aldershot - which ended up costing the company more than £45,000.

At Basingstoke Magistrates' Court on Monday 31 July, Bob Potter Leisure Ltd, which has registered offices at the Lakeside Country Club, Wharf Road, Frimley Green, Surreydenied11 charges relating to the illegal removal of 12 trees and the unauthorised cropping of another, which were all subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).

The TPO was created in 1993, at the time when the former officers' club was being converted into the hotel. It included 16 individual trees made up of beech, pine, oak, cedar and fir. Also included in this TPO was a separate group of trees consisting of nine oaks and one lime tree.

The company was found guilty of ten of the charges and fined a total of £42,000. This was made up of £5,000 for three felled trees from the group, £5,000 for the unauthorised cropping of a beech tree in a manner as to be likely to destroy it and £4,000 each for eight other trees covered by the TPO. The company was found not guilty of one further charge of felling one of the oak trees. 

In addition to the fines, the company was also ordered to pay the council's costs of £4,158.75 and a victim surcharge of £170.

The court heard that the offences came to light when one of the council's arboricultural officers drove past the hotel on the A325 Farnborough Road in Aldershot, in early January 2016. He noticed that a beech tree had been severely cropped in a way that would not have been carried out by a professional tree surgeon.

The council carried out an investigation, which showed that, in addition to the severely cropped beech tree, 12 of the 26 trees in the hotel grounds covered by the TPO were now missing, or were just stumps. The beech tree had been cropped sometime between October 2015 and April 2016, and some of the trees could have been removed as far back as 1993.  

The council offered the company three opportunities to explain its actions by inviting representatives  to attend interviews under caution in June, July and August 2016, all of which it  declined. The council therefore decided to take the company to court.

The company claimed in court that it was not aware of the TPO and that it had not been served correctly.

In sentencing, District Judge Gillibrand rejected the claim that the company was not aware of the TPO. This was proved by correspondence between the council and the company, including a letter from Bob Potter himself in 1996.

The Judge also strongly criticised the company for its lack of cooperation throughout the investigation.

Rushmoor Borough Council's Cabinet member for Business, Safety and Regulation, Councillor Ken Muschamp, said: "It's very disappointing that the company decided to ignore the TPO and remove or crop these important trees and the three offers from the council to explain their actions. The TPO was placed on the trees for a good reason, because they were fine examples of mature trees in a conservation area that we need to preserve.

"Make no mistake - this council takes the protection of our borough's natural environment, green space and trees very seriously. These protections exist for a reason - the loss of these trees is a loss experienced by us all. When people act irresponsibly in this manner we will take action. No-one should think they are above the law and that the rules don't apply to them.

"This case involved a lot of hard work by officers to bring to court, but we will not hesitate to do exactly the same again if anyone else removes or ruins a tree covered by a TPO.

"We would strongly advise anyone wishing to carry out any work on a tree covered by a TPO, or any tree within a conservation area, to check with the council's planning department before doing anything, otherwise they could find themselves facing big fines like this."

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