A landowner responsible for destroying “irreplaceable” woodland habitat has been ordered to clear the site and restock the felled trees.
The landowners stationed caravans, mobile homes and other fixed structures on the plot including a timber climbing frame, trampoline and a chicken coop without the relevant planning permissions.
These actions caused Gareth Sullivan, the owner, to receive a 12-month prison sentence in October 2021 for breaching a High Court injunction obtained by Gravesham council preventing the felling of protected trees and the development of land at Fowler’s Stone Wood.
The council was granted an interim injunction by the High Court a month later preventing work on-site, which is deemed an “irreplaceable habitat” and sits within the Green Belt and the Meopham Downs Special Landscape Area. It is also covered by a Woodland Tree Preservation Order.
Later an Enforcement Notice relating to the material change of the use of the land was given to and appealed by Sullivan in early 2022.
The planning inspectorate declined to determine that appeal.
Throughout 2023 and following legal advice, Gravesham council worked with partners including police to gather the additional evidence and information required for further direct action to be considered.
The latest Enforcement Notice was served in November last year and with no appeal having been lodged, this came into effect on January 22.
Under the terms of the notice, the landowners and/or occupiers must cease use of the land for residential purposes and clear the site by April 22 and restock the woodland within six months.
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, the council’s cabinet member for strategic environment, said: “We understand the frustrations of local residents that the thoroughly unpleasant situation at Fowler’s Stone Wood is taking so long to resolve.
“The reality is we are bound by the law. We have to follow our legal advice to the letter to ensure we have the greatest chance of success. If we attempt to cut corners, we run the risk of opening up loopholes that could be exploited to draw out the process even further.
“We are using all the powers we have at our disposal to bring an end to this situation.
“We wish we could do more and do it quicker but that requires a change in the law and more powers and resources from central government.
“We will be watching the site carefully in the coming weeks to ensure this latest Enforcement Notice is complied with and are ready to take further court action if it is not, armed with all the additional information required to give us the greatest chance of success.”