London council orders landowners to 'rewild' area after they were accused of illegally cutting down 131 trees
The leaseholder says he wanted to build community sports fields on the site, as the council's investigation into whether the act was illegal continues
Back in June, Bromley Council obtained an interim injunction to protect a stretch of privately-owned land by Cator Park in Kings Hall Rd, after 131 protected trees - most of them self-seeded oaks - were felled at the site one weekend.
Now the landowner, the Hopeson Group, and the leaseholder, named by Sky News as Prince Choudary, have been ordered to replant 131 oaks on the site to replace them.
In a statement sent to NationalWorld, a Bromley Council spokesperson said: “Our borough is renowned for its magnificent treescapes, both in tree lined [streets], on greenspaces, and privately owned land, and ensuring this continues is important."
The council’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the felling of these protected trees on this privately owned land was "very much continuing", they said. " Whilst we are limited by what we can say about the investigation from a legal perspective, we are committed to taking all legal measures at our disposal.
"In the days following the felling of the trees, which were included in a [tree preservation order], the council successfully sought an injunction to give further legal protection," they continued. "As part of our robust and methodological response to this desperately sad incident, we have now also notified the landowner of a legal requirement to re-plant oak trees on this much loved, mini woodland site.”
Councillor Angela Page added that locals were “still quite rightly shocked and saddened at what took place on that fateful weekend", when the protected trees were felled.
Mr Choudary told Sky News his plan was to build sports fields for the community to use on the site, and that he had planned to replant some trees around their perimeters. "The land has been in the family for 15 years," he said, and had "sports ground permission".
Now he said the row had escalated, and locals had threatened to set their dogs on him. He claimed less than 40 trees were cut down before the council served him with the preservation orders.
The Hopeson Group - the company which owns the land - also told Sky the lease had been “granted with a view to create sports facilities for participants of all ages”.
However, CPRE the Countryside Charity's London branch said the Cator Woodland site is designated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), with the same level of protection from development as the Green Belt. It has been regularly used by the public for at least 20 years, they said, and is a haven for wildlife "including bats, woodpeckers, tawny owls, kingfishers, egrets, slow worms, a good range of butterflies and stag beetles".
Director Anna Taylor said MOL sites are "the green lungs of London". "We hope that the community outrage and substantial media interest this story has generated will help the landowner understand that this woodland is enormously valued by local people – and they will never get permission to flatten it.”
Bromley Council said anyone found guilty of felling trees that have been identified in a Tree Preservation Order are committing an offense under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. They can be fined up to £20,000 at a Magistrates Court, or an unlimited fine at a Crown Court.
Council staff said it was likely that the investigation will continue for some weeks, as their staff gather evidence.