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Bromley Council orders landowner to replant felled oak trees on 'much loved, mini woodland site'

A London council has ordered a landowner to replant trees felled to make way for outdoor sports fields.

Conservationists claim 131 trees were illegally felled in the woodland adjacent to Cator Park in Bromley.

The leaseholder, Prince Choudary, told Sky News that fewer than 40 trees were cut down before the council served him with tree preservation orders (TPOs).

"The land has been in the family for 15 years," he said. "It has sports ground permission so I want to do sports activities there for the local community."

Mr Choudary, a football coach, said children need outdoor spaces to practice and play football and his indoor academy in Camberwell has run out of space.

"We get a lot of players from the Bromley area and Orpington so it's difficult for them to go to Camberwell," he said.

"All these trees that have been cut down were going to be replanted on the side to make it more beautiful. We wanted a nice sports pitch in the middle and two small pitches on the side."

The company which owns the land, Hopeson Group Limited, said the lease was "granted with a view to create sports facilities for participants of all ages".

Mr Choudary has accused local residents of trying to drive him away so they can use the space to walk their dogs.

He agreed to meet Sky News at the site only if security was provided, saying the dispute has become so toxic that locals set their dogs on him.

Security guard in tow, he showed us the site's entrance.

"This is where they broke the lock," he said, pointing to a latch on the gate that has been cut off.

As Mr Choudary pointed to the broken lock, a dog walker opened the gate and entered the land, before closing it behind her and walking off.

Ricardo Gama, senior associate at Leigh Day solicitors, has warned that such conflicts could become widespread.

"It's becoming more common for these sorts of issues to arise," he said. "As people start to realise the value of trees and communities wake up to the value of trees, they're taking steps to protect trees, to process, to campaign and to look into legal issues."

Mr Gama said councils often issue TPOs before a landowner is made aware of the order.

"The TPO takes effect as soon as the order is made and before the council has informed the landowner," he said.

"Once the council has made this, they must notify the landowner and the landowner has certain limited rights."

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Disputes over TPOs are not uncommon.

In June, Sheffield city council issued an open apology following a bitter dispute over the felling of thousands of street trees.

Earlier this year, Plymouth city council leader Richard Bingley announced his resignation after ordering the felling of more than 100 trees to make way for a £12m regeneration scheme in the city centre.

In Bromley, local resident Anita Hocking told Sky News she's been using Prince Choudary's leaseheld land to walk her dogs for 18 years.

"Personally I don't feel (Prince Choudary) is responsible enough to (operate) the land as it is," she said. "We have to respect that he (is the leaseholder), and if he locked the gate, I wouldn't break in because I'm not the owner of it."

Another woman allowed her daughter to pick berries. "We're going to make blackberry jam - thought we'd start early on our Christmas presents," she said.

Local residents are supporting conservationists in calls to retain the woodland for dog-walking and wildlife.

Anne Taylor, director of the conservation group CPRE, told Sky News: "I hope the (leaseholder) will realise what has happened here means he can never develop it or use it for any income-generating purpose and hopefully (release) this land - hopefully to someone like a philanthropist or an environmental body.

"We're really keen that this should be now restored (and) preserved as a community woodland."

Bromley Council told Sky News it is investigating the felling of protected trees.

"As part of our robust and methodological response to this desperately sad incident, we have now also notified the landowner of a legal requirement to replant oak trees on this much loved, mini woodland site," it said in a statement.

Hopeson Group Limited said it was "happy to work with the council to resolve any concerns which they may have".