Bellway Homes has been fined £3,500 after pleading guilty to breaching planning rules at a former school in Yate.
The housing developer, which has already sold many of the 57 new homes built on Rodford Primary School, which closed in 2010, was taken to court by South Gloucestershire Council for failing to protect a number of tree roots.
Planning conditions imposed when permission was granted to build the two, three and four-bedroom homes, now called Rodford Mews, required the developer to maintain root protection areas away from construction activities to protect existing trees on the site, and wheel washing to ensure that no vehicle leaving the development site carried any mud on to Barnwood Road.
The council’s enforcement officers visited the site on a number of occasions where they witnessed alterations to the protective fencing that was shielding the root protection area of an established oak tree. Digging had also taken place in the area around the roots, which had exposed and broken a number of them.
Officers also witnessed the lack of wheel washing facilities, which had resulted in mud on the road, affecting highway safety.
The case was heard at North Avon Magistrates’ Court on Friday (January 8) where Bellway Homes pleaded guilty to both offences and was fined £1,750 on each count.
Planning, transport and strategic environment chairman Cllr Colin Hunt (Con, Longwell Green) said: “Planning regulations are put in place to help protect the local environment and we take any breaches very seriously.
“In this case, the developer had endangered trees on the site by not protecting their roots and had risked road safety by failing to ensure vehicles were free of mud when leaving the development.
“Our planning enforcement team will take appropriate action whenever a breach to the planning rules occur.”
On top of the fines Bellway Homes South West Ltd were additionally ordered to pay South Gloucestershire Council £954.78 in costs and a victim surcharge of £120, bringing the total to £4,574.78.
After the court hearing, Yate town councillor Chris Willmore said the fine was ‘pathetic’.
She told the Gazette: “It is no real deterrent. No wonder developers ignore the rules and dig up trees and hedges right left and centre.”
Tree expert Iain Garett, of Harescombe, successfully fought for Bellway to employ an experienced arboricultural consultant to oversee tree protection but formed a campaign group after the company quickly stopped following rules.
He said: “Compaction damage to the roots may not be realised until long after Bellway have sold all of the houses and the the amenity value of a mature oak tree in a built up area is far greater than what they have been ordered to pay.
“Unfortunately it sends a message to developers that ignoring tree protection conditions may actually save them time and money if the fine is likely to be so small.
“However, such a prosecution is a black mark against their environmental sustainability claims.”