Council's bid to save historic trees leaves it with £38,700 legal bill

A council which attempted to place tree preservation orders (TPOs) on two landmark domestic trees now faces a £38,700 legal bill from the trees' owner, who has had them felled anyway.

Victoria Seabright, who owns a £2.25m Grade II-listed rectory in Little Gransden, Cambridgeshire, applied last summer to cut down a cedar and wellingtonia, thought to be at least 300 years old, which experts claimed were undermining the 16th century property.

But when residents and the village's parish council objected to the trees being felled, South Cambridgeshire District Council applied TPOs to the trees, arguing that their loss would have an unacceptable impact on the Conservation Area.

Councillors on the planning committee agreed with the move, which went against their own planning officers’ recommendations, and which then required the property to be underpinned.

But in July this year the planning committee reversed its decision, saying that the costs of underpinning, for which the council would have to pay, would outweigh the trees’ value.

However Councillor Robin Page, a former TV presenter and chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust, then took his own council to the High Court of Justice, saying it had acted unlawfully in revoking the TPO.

The appeal for judicial review failed, leaving Page to pay costs of £2,000 to the council and £1,000 to the owner, and the trees were felled.

The owner then claimed costs from the council of £43,600 to cover preparation for the underpinning and legal expenses. The council settled the case out of court, paying £38,700.

Councillor Ray Manning, council leader, described the outcome as "the best possible settlement for council taxpayers" given that underpinning would have cost more.

He added the council's planning committee had acted against "sound recommendations by council officers" in applying the TPOs, but acknowledged their having heeded local demands to retain the trees.

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