Tree-cutting controversy at town hall as councillors and businessman clash

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A businessman has been accused by councillors of “cocking a snook” at the planning process after chopping boughs off protected trees.

Chorley Council’s development control committee heard that Andrew Roberts had removed the branches in an attempt to get temporary office units down a private lane to Sarscow Farm in Eccleston, close to the Chorley/Leyland border.

One of the trees whose branches Mr. Roberts cut back

One of the trees whose branches Mr. Roberts cut back

But Mr. Roberts walked out of the meeting, saying members were telling “blatant lies” about him and later claimed that he had carried out the work to protect public footpath users.

The committee was discussing an application for retrospective permission to install mobile units at the farm, while the main buildings are converted to business premises. Mr. Roberts had previously pledged that no trees would need to be trimmed, because he would be using a low loader to site the offices.

But committee member John Dalton said that he visited the site six weeks ago to find the applicant “chainsaw in hand” and the units themselves “stuck”.

“He was on the back of a cherry picker and not just lopping small branches off, but big ones. “I asked him to stop and he said, ‘I’m getting these trucks down here.’”

Andrew Roberts says he cut the boughs because they posed a danger to the passing public

Andrew Roberts says he cut the boughs because they posed a danger to the passing public

Cllr Dalton said when he produced a copy of the Tree Protection Order (TPO) which was in force on the lane, Mr. Roberts claimed to be unaware of it.

Members heard that the issue was now subject to separate enforcement action by the council and that the planning application had to be decided on its own merits. Planning officers said that the temporary nature of the development - and the fact that Mr. Roberts’ business had been forced to relocate at short notice - meant that it should be given the go ahead.

But Cllr Keith Iddon encouraged members to vote against the application, saying it was an attempt “to ride roughshod over a system designed to prevent a farm being turned into an industrial area”.

With the committee split, the casting vote of the chair saw permission granted for the temporary offices to remain in place. However, a tree expert will have to attend the site when they are removed.

A Tree Protection Order has been imposed along Sarscow Lane

A Tree Protection Order has been imposed along Sarscow Lane

“I was protecting the public”

Speaking after the meeting, Andrew Roberts said he had cut the branches after storm damage had left them at risk of falling onto walkers who have access to Scarscow Farm.

“As the owner of this land, I have an obligation to make sure it is kept safe and that is exactly what I’ve done. The [units] weren’t stuck - they were stopped by me because I was finishing doing the work on the trees,” he said.

“I’m an experienced tree surgeon and I've taken the limb back to the grow point.”

The businessman - who says 85 jobs would have been at risk if permission for the offices had been refused - also claimed Chorley Council had not advised him that a Tree Protection Order (TPO) on his land had been made permanent. “We did due diligence, but the only information was a certificate on-line which was not signed or dated.”

"As an interested party, we were never notified by the council to say that the TPO had been made permanent," Mr. Roberts added.

But the authority’s planning services manager, Adele Hayes, told the development control committee: “Reference to that TPO was made at the [meeting] which determined the previous applications related to this site - and at which the applicant was in attendance.”

She accepted that there had been “some confusion” over the matter, but said she had been able to access the TPO online - just like Mr. Roberts’ neighbour, who shared it with Cllr Dalton when he saw the trees being cut.

However, Mr. Roberts says the only explanation for the origin of the signed order which was presented to him by Cllr Dalton is that a hard copy must have been officially served to the neighbouring landowner.