Enzo’s Homes tries to overturn conviction for felling Giant Redwood

A firm of house builders and its owner are appealing against their convictions and punishments for illegally felling 73 protected trees, including a prominent Giant Redwood.

In October 2019 Enzo’s Homes was fined £120,000 and the firm’s managing director Fiorenzo Sauro fined £180,000 after being found guilty of chopping down trees near a building site close to Penllergare Valley Woods north of Swansea.

The tree surgeon who actually wielded the chainsaw, contractor Arwyn Morgan, was also fined £120,000.

Enzo Homes and its boss are back in court this week to try to get their convictions and fines overturned.

The appeal – at Swansea Crown Court – is expected to last four days.

Opening the case for the respondents, Jonathan Rees QC told the court that Enzo Homes acquired the site of the former council offices in Penllergaer, Swansea, from Swansea Council in 2018 with plans to redevelop the site into housing – a development to be called Mansion Gardens.

He said on the day planning permission was granted for the new housing project, tree preservation orders (TPOs) were drawn up by Swansea Council to protect various trees in the woods around the site. The barrister said this was done in part because Enzo’s Homes workers had already been on the site, and damage had been caused to a number of trees including to a prominent oak.

Mr Rees said the trees covered by the TPOs were on land adjoining the former civic centre site which was owned by the Penllergare Valley Woods Trust, land which the house builders were negotiating to buy and over which they had secured rights of access.

The court heard that on the morning of November 28, 2018, a tree preservation officer at Swansea Council received an anonymous call from a member of the public tipping him off about felling activity at the building site. A number of similar calls had also been made to the local councillor, Wendy Fitzgerald, which had been picked up from the answerphone by her husband. Mr Fitzgerald went to the site that afternoon to see what was going on – felling and grubbing-up work was in progress when the councillor’s spouse arrived.

The stump of the giant redwood at Penllergaer after it was cut down

Council and Natural Resources Wales officers subsequently also went to the site.

Mr Rees said it was later established that an area of woodland the size of four-and-a-half tennis courts had been cleared of trees – in total some 73 trees subject to TPOs had been chopped down, including a large Giant Redwood tree.

The barrister said: “This unlawful felling was not by accident, it was clearly by design. We are not talking about the felling of an isolated tree. This was near-clearance of an area of woodland.”

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The court heard Mr Sauro, the owner and sole director of Enzo’s Homes, subsequently emailed the council – including one message sent directly council leader Rob Stewart – in which he apologised for the “mistake”, and offered to implement remedial planting.

Mr Rees said it was the Crown’s case that both the company and the boss of the company had been properly convicted following a trial at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, and that Mr Sauro had either directly approved the felling of the trees or had permitted the felling by “turning a blind eye” to what was going on and being reckless as to whether the TPOs were breached.

Day one of the hearing also heard legal arguments by Adam Vaitilingam QC acting on behalf of both Enzo’s Homes and Mr Sauro.

He argued that Mr Sauro had been prosecuted on the basis that he caused or permitted the trees to be felled but had been charged under the wrong provision of the Town and Country Planning Act – namely s210(1) instead of s210(4).

The court heard the law around the enforcement of TPOs differs between and England was Wales.

Mr Rees for the respondent claimed the argument about s210(1) or s210(4) was “something of a red herring”.

Judge Christopher Vosper QC, who is hearing the appeal with two magistrates, adjourned the hearing to consider the legal arguments.

The appeal is due to resume on Tuesday morning.

WalesOnline – Swansea