A COUNCIL bid to protect trees on a turkey farm has cost taxpayers nearly £25,000 in court costs, it has been revealed.

And the row over the trees at The Rocks, Clearwell, is still rumbling on, with the Forest Council passing a second ‘Tree Preservation Order’ after the first one cost them thousands of pounds amid claims of procedural irregularities.

A TPO was first served last October on land farmed by Stephen Hay of Hay Farms near Ross-on-Wye.

Mr Hay challenged the TPO in the courts, with his lawyers arguing that he was not permitted to speak at the planning committee meeting where it was discussed and wasn’t allowed to attend the councillors’ site visit.

In a transcript and summary of the case, obtained from the district council, it says: “Between January and April 17, 2019, which was the date listed for the final hearing, the council attempted to negotiate settlement of the claim with Mr Hay’s lawyers.

“That settlement failed because Mr Hay was not prepared to withdraw his claim unless the council removed protection from most of the trees the planning committee had decided to safeguard.

“In addition, the council’s lawyers had concerns about the bill of costs presented by Mr Hay’s representatives.”

The transcript added: “In a final attempt at conciliation, the council’s Tree Protection Officers met Mr Hay’s tree expert on site and then revised the TPO with a new Order, while also telling Mr Hay he would be able to address the (planning) committee when it considered the new Order.”

At the Judicial Review, on April 17, Mr Justice Swift noted that the initial TPO had been replaced by the new one and he refused to consider the case any further because, in his view, it was academic.

However, the transcript said: “He ordered the council to pay the other side’s costs of £24,914.52 after reducing the bill by several thousand pounds at the request of the council.”

The new TPO was passed by council planners last month. The committee meeting minutes say a member of the public spoke in objection to it.

A Forest of Dean Council spokesperson said this week: “This case relates to a Tree Preservation Order at The Rocks in Clearwell which was challenged by the landowner.

“The costs are for our defence of that order. We take environmental protection very seriously and we’re committed to preserving trees which make a significant contribution to our area.

“We also understand the landowner’s desire to build, so we’ve done our best to work together to reach a positive conclusion that works for both sides – allowing sustainable development whilst protecting our beautiful forest.”

The district council’s Conservative group leader, Cllr Brian Robinson (Mitcheldean), who raised the case at a council Cabinet meeting last week, said afterwards: “I picked it up in the (Quarterly) Performance Report (which was the last item of the Cabinet meeting) and that is all I know about it.

“To me, to make a decision about a tree preservation that you are unable to sustain in an appeal and then it costs £25,000 is a concern.”

Mr Hay could again challenge the decision of the new TPO, but attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.