TPOs Brief Guide
Tree Preservation Orders, Conservation Areas, Planning Conditions, Felling Licences or Restrictive Covenants legally protects many trees in the UK. Anyone wishing to undertake work to a tree should make suitable enquiries as to the legal status of the tree and any protection afforded to it, before undertaking any work, in order to protect themselves and others from possible prosecutions or enforcement action.
Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs)
TPOs are administered by Local Planning Authorities (LPA) (e.g. a borough, district or unitary council or a national park authority) and are made to protect trees that bring significant amenity benefit to the local area. This protection is particularly important where trees are under threat.
All types of tree, but not hedges, bushes or shrubs can be protected, and a TPO can protect anything from a single tree to all trees within a defined area or woodland. Any species can be protected, but no species is automatically protected by a tree preservation order.
A TPO is a written order, which in general, makes it a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree protected by that order, or to cause or permit such actions, without the authority’s permission. Anyone found guilty of such an offence is liable. In serious cases the case may be dealt with in the Crown Court where an unlimited fine can be imposed.
To make an application to carry out tree works you will need to complete an application form and submit it to the LPA. The form can either be submitted through the Planning Portal or directly to the LPA. You can find out more about TPOs in the Department for Communities and Local Government guide titled Protected trees: A guide to tree preservation procedures.
Normal TPO procedures apply if a tree in a conservation area is already protected by a TPO. But if a tree in a conservation area is not covered by a TPO, you have to give written notice to the LPA (by letter, email or on the LPA’s form) of any proposed work, describing what you want to do, at least six weeks before the work starts. This is called a ‘section 211 notice’ and it gives the LPA an opportunity to consider protecting the tree with a TPO.
You do not need to give notice of work on a tree in a conservation area less than 7.5 centimetres in diameter, measured 1.5 metres above the ground (or 10 centimetres if thinning to help the growth of other trees).
You can find out more about trees in Conservation Areas in the Department for Communities and Local Government guide titled Protected trees : A guide to tree preservation procedures.
Trees and the planning system
Under the UK planning system, LPAs have a statutory duty to consider the protection and planting of trees when granting planning permission for proposed development. The potential effect of development on trees, whether statutorily protected (e.g. by a tree preservation order or by their inclusion within a conservation area) or not, is a material consideration that is taken into account when dealing with planning applications. Where trees are statutorily protected, it is important to contact the LPA and follow the appropriate procedures before undertaking any works that might affect the protected trees.
Planning conditions are frequently used by LPAs as a means of securing the retention of trees, hedgerows and other soft landscaping on sites during development and for a period following completion of the development. If it is proposed to retain trees for the long term then a TPO is often used rather than a planning condition. If valid planning conditions are in place then anyone wishing to undertake work to trees shown as part of the planning condition must ensure they liaise with the LPA and obtain any necessary consent or variation.
The nature and level of detail of information required to enable an LPA to properly consider the implications and effects of development proposals varies between stages and in relation to what is proposed. Table B.1 of British Standard 5837:2012 Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations provides advice to both developers and LPAs on an appropriate amount of information that will need to be provided either at the planning application stage or via conditions.
Felling Licences are administered by the Forestry Commission. You do not need a licence to fell trees in gardens. However, for trees outside gardens, you may need to apply to the Forestry Commission for a felling licence, whether or not they are covered by a TPO. You can find out more about felling licences at Felling Licences quick guide (England) or in the Forestry Commission’s booklet Tree Felling – getting permission.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
SSSIs (ASSIs in Northern Ireland) are designated by the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) for each country of the United Kingdom. They include some of our most spectacular and beautiful habitats – large wetlands teeming with waders and waterfowl, winding chalk rivers, gorse and heather-clad heathlands, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote uplands moorland and peat bog. Each SSSI will have a management plan and a list of operations requiring the SNCOs consent prior to carrying out works.
Any activity that recklessly or intentionally harms the SSSI (ASSIs in Northern Ireland) or its flora or fauna will be an offence liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to an unlimited fine. If you know the name of the Site of Special Scientific Interest and want to know more about it, you can search for it by country at England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
A restrictive covenant is a promise by one person to another, (such as a buyer of land and a seller) not to do certain things with the land or property. It binds the land and not an individual owner, it “runs with the land”. This means that the restrictive covenant continues over the land or property even when the current owner(s) sells it to another person. Restrictive covenants continue to have effect even though they may have been made many years ago and appear to be obsolete.
Covenants or other restrictions in the title of a property or conditions in a lease may require the consent of a third party prior to carrying out some sorts of tree work, including removing trees and hedges. This may be the case even if TPO, CA and felling licence regulations do not apply. It may be advisable to consult a solicitor.
Please note this brief guide should not be taken as a definitive interpretation of the law as it affects trees but is intended purely to provide general guidance. This advice may not be wholly applicable outside England.
Branches that grow so as to overhang
your neighbours’ land are trespassing on his/her air space. The neighbour can chop the branches back to the boundary but he has to return the lopped branches to the owner of the tree together with any fruit that might have been on them. If he lops beyond his boundary then it is a trespass. It is always best to ask your neighbour first although you do not need his permission to lop overhanging branches so long as they are returned.
This is a very common scenario and usually can be resolved with good communication. 9 out of 10 times the waste material is not wanted by the neighbour and can be chipped up by us and taken away or chipped down on site.
Tree Roots, Drainage and driveway damage
Tree roots typically grow close to the surface, and it is not uncommon for them to develop on the underside of hard surfaces such as driveways, which can lead to cracks developing through physical pressure. This damage is frequently superficial, and there is a range of options available which include: do nothing; repair the cracks; remove the existing surface and replace with a new one engineered to accommodate the roots; prune the roots or remove the tree (the latter two subject to Tree Preservation Order consent or conservation area notification if relevant).
Tree roots can cause problems by blocking drains. They do not usually cause the initial damage to the drain and will only enter drains which are already damaged and leaking. Therefore, if drains are watertight, roots should not normally affect them. If your drains are blocked by roots you will need a drainage company to assist. It is possible that the drains will require lining or replacing. Removing the tree seldom resolves the problem as the drain remains damaged and can leak (possibly causing foundation damage) or may be infiltrated by the roots of other plants unless the drain is repaired.
If your driveway or drains have been affected by roots, this does not necessarily mean that your house will be damaged next. Root damage to buildings is much rarer and is usually caused by subsidence: an entirely different mechanism to driveways and drains damage.
Can I legally ask my neighbours to trim or reduce a hedge??
In most situations the simple answer to this is no. You have a common law right to prune back parts of a tree or hedge growing over the boundary into your property (subject to any legal restrictions being overcome first such as Tree Preservation Orders or conservation areas) but you cannot compel the owner of the trees or hedge to carry out this work or pay for it. As a general rule you have no legal right to a view which has been obscured by your neighbours trees.
If your neighbours own an evergreen hedge close to your property you can make a formal complaint to your Local Planning Authority (LPA) under the High Hedges legislation as set out in Part 8 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003. There is usually a charge for this and the LPA will consider the complaint using standard government guidance set out in a document called Hedge Height and Light Loss. If your complaint is successful the LPA will determine an Action Height to which the height of the hedge must be reduced.
If your neighbours tree or hedge is dangerous and is a hazard to your property then there is action that can usually be taken. In this situation you should contact an arboricultural consultant for further advice.
It is always better to settle a dispute about trees amicably and it is recommended that you try to resolve it by talking to your neighbours first.
Source Arb Association