While land has become more expensive than ever before, urban development is also continuing an upward trajectory. Unfortunately, this refers not only to brown field sites, but also to green field sites where the expansion of cities and conurbations have led to local councils giving developers the green light at previously undisturbed locations.
While this is sometimes a necessary evil for a growing population, more often than not these developments come at the expense of the flora and fauna of the area.
To prevent special trees and areas being destroyed by developers, the local council can provide tree preservation orders and conservation areas, making it a crime to do so.
What are Tree Preservation Orders?
After WW2, Clement Atlee’s Labour government were made aware of the number of developments and re-developments that were taking place on private grounds with no oversight. With over a thousand planning authorities across the country, those with financial might were able to do as they pleased with ground they owned without contention – even if it affected others in the vicinity.
To combat this, Atlee passed the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, whittling the number of planning authorities down to 145 for greater transparency; introducing the concept of planning permission; providing buildings with ‘listed’ status; and allowing them to designate certain areas and trees as untouchable.
What do Tree Preservation Orders entail?
A tree that is granted a TPO is usually one that is situated in a public space and is considered to be significantly historic, hold a certain amenity value, or is an important part of the eco-system. Once a tree gains this status, it is a criminal offence for anyone to alter, move, or cut down the tree.
If a tree is damaged, either intentionally or unintentionally, fines are levied in the area of £2,000-£2,500. If, however, a tree is killed due to damage or is removed for the sake of development, the fine is unlimited but likely to be £20,000 or more depending on the severity of the offence.
As an example, a man living in Canford Cliffs in Dorset was ordered to pay almost £40,000 in March 2019 for the illegal act of cutting back several 12-foot branches on a 42ft oak tree in his garden that held TPO status.
Can a Tree Preservation Order be removed?
Technically, yes. Likely? No.
Since the introduction of TPOs in July 1948, there have only been a few cases where TPO status has been removed from a tree for any reason other than paperwork errors, tree diseases, or similar issues – and the only people with the power to remove the TPO are the local planning authority, usually acting under the advice of a respected arboricultural consultant. In short, the order itself exists solely to ensure that the question never be asked.
While development can still take place near a TPO tree, there are very strict guidelines that must be followed, and no action can be given the go-ahead with the confirmation of the arboricultural consultant. While there are cases where a tree surgeon will be given permission to cut back small areas of the tree if it is directly in the way of a development – it will never be for the purpose of aesthetics.
Generally speaking, these laws exist to prevent those less trustworthy developers from removing trees whenever they want for the sake of building properties and making money, while also preventing homeowners cutting down important trees in their gardens simply to increase the amount of sunlight into their living rooms.
Matthew Lally has worked with trees across Europe for over 15 years. He holds a degree in arboriculture and is recognised as a LANTRA Professional Tree Inspector, and as a professional member of the Arboricultural Association. Why not contact us for a no obligation chat about your tree survey.