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After tree-felling error, chancellor urges knowledge of faculty process

26 January 2024

© Alexander P Kapp/geograph

Holy Trinity and St Jude, Halifax

Holy Trinity and St Jude, Halifax

THE unauthorised felling and removal of two trees in the churchyard of Holy Trinity and St Jude, Halifax, had the result that the Vicar, the Revd Stuart Stobart, and the churchwardens had to apply for a confirmatory faculty to authorise retroactively the removal of the trees felled in error.

In November 2022, an arboricultural safety assessment recommended various works in the churchyard, including the felling of three trees: a sycamore, an elm, and a wild cherry. In June 2023, a faculty was obtained authorising the felling, and making provision for what was called compensation planting, with details on location and species to be agreed with the Archdeacon.

A quote of £1250 was received by Meristem Arboriculture and Forestry to undertake the work. In July, the company carried out the work, in the course of which its workers felled two trees that were not covered by the faculty. The company was ordered by the Consistory Court of the diocese of Leeds to be made an additional party to the application for a confirmatory faculty and to file evidence.

Luke Naylor, who described himself as the company’s “owner”, took responsibility for the error. In an email, he wrote: “We are sorry for this happening and hope it won’t reflect badly on future works we may do for the church.”

The Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Hill KC, said that he could not “help but be concerned at Mr Naylor’s candid response to one of the questions posed” when he said that he was “not familiar” with the faculty jurisdiction. The Chancellor found that a “surprising response from someone who elsewhere in his reply had expressed the hope that his company’s unlawful activity would not reflect badly on any future church-related work it might do”.

The Chancellor then emphasised that “those whose business includes work on church buildings or in churchyards of the Church of England must be familiar with the process and procedures of the faculty jurisdiction and have a firm grasp of the principle that unless a faculty (or other authorisation) has been obtained, any work done will be unlawful.”

The Chancellor said that he had given some thought to adding a condition to the faculty that neither Mr Naylor nor his company be approved for work in the diocese for a specified period. But he had decided not to do that, owing to Mr Naylor’s “contrition, and the fact that the felling of the wrong trees was an accidental oversight rather than a deliberate disregard of the [faculty] jurisdiction”. Mr Naylor had conceded that a costs liability would inevitably fall on him.

The confirmatory faculty was granted on condition that compensatory planting was undertaken at the company’s expense in a manner to be approved by the Archdeacon. The costs of and occasioned by the court proceedings were ordered to be borne by the company. The quantum of costs will be assessed by the Registrar.

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