A planning permit entitled “To sanction uprooting of trees and to construct swimming pool, underground reservoir and underground pump room” was approved by the Environment and Planning Commission subject to the applicant paying a fine equivalent to €1,800. The fine was imposed by the Planning Commission because a number of “mature” trees were allegedly removed from the applicant’s site without a prior permit.

Following this decision, the applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, based on two fronts. Primarily, the applicant contended that the trees in question were not protected in terms of law. Moreover, the applicant insisted that the trees were planted in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the applicant asserted that it was the Authority (during the application process) who insisted that he should amend the proposal description to include the “sanctioning of the uprooting of trees”. Concluding, the applicant insisted that he was not personally involved in the carrying out of the alleged tree uprooting.

As a reaction, the MEPA case officer highlighted that the relative 2012 aerial photos indicate “a change in landscaping with respect to previous years”. Moreover, the case officer added that once the applicant accepted to modify the proposal description, he had tacitly consented to MEPA’s claims.

Additionally, the Authority said that “the exact day on which the uprooting of trees has been carried out” is irrelevant since “any unauthorised interventions are directly linked to the site and not to the respective site owners”. In conclusion, the Authority reminded the Tribunal that the fee was calculated in accordance with the provisions of the law.

In its assessment, the Tribunal made immediate reference to section 29 of the 2011 Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, namely Legal Notice 200 of 2011. The said regulation expressly provides that a person who commits, or attempts to commit an offence in a tree protection area is liable to a fine which may vary from €500 to €25,000 upon a first conviction. On second conviction, the inflicted fine may then increase to €50,000 for every tree. In this case, the Tribunal found that the appellant was never prosecuted before a Court of Law, let alone been convicted. Against the background, the Tribunal came to the conclusion that the Authority had acted ultra vires and the €1,800 fine was not due.