Memorandum Submitted by Woodland Trust (PB 3)

Planning Bill

Woodland Trust and Ancient Tree Forum proposals for changes to tree protection legislation.

 

1

Background

 

 

Trees that are ancient, champions for their species or have specific historic and cultural associations are immensely valuable heritage assets and have great public appeal for people of all ages, backgrounds and origins. The Major Oak at Sherwood Forest, perhaps the most famous of ancient oak trees is visited by more than 600,000 people a year.

Clusters of ancient trees remain in areas that were previously designated under Forest Law e.g. the New Forest, Windsor Great Park, Hatfield Forest and the Woodland Trust's Hainault Forest and mediaeval parks. Many of these Forests and parks are a legacy from legislation brought in over a thousand years ago and are almost unique in a European context. These areas and the rich heritage of trees in them, attract millions of visitors every year[1].

 

Traditional orchards were once commonplace and played a vital role in communities are also rapidly disappearing from our landscape. They too are rich in fruit trees of special interest.


It is widely recognised that amenity trees provide enormous benefit to society. One (conservative) estimate is 50,000,000,000 (at 1990 values) over 100 years[2]. In addition to all their other amenity values, trees themselves and all their associates are important for biodiversity, including being habitat for several listed species and listed habitats. The NERC Act requires Secretary of State to further conservation of habitats and organisms on lists and places a duty on local authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity. Planning policies alone are insufficient and can only influence outcomes if an LPA has a role.

 

Despite their importance, the future survival of many of these individual ancient trees, Forests and orchards depends entirely on the goodwill of their current owners. They have no heritage protection comparable with other man-made heritage assets and the current tree protection system fails them.

 

2

What is wrong with the current system?

 

 

We welcome the Government's wish to see real improvements in the environments where people live and a more streamlined approach to tree protection. However there is a pressing need to take this opportunity to prevent the continued loss of the trees of most value to us for their amenity, biodiversity, landscape, rarity, historical or cultural value. To do this we need to address the following shortcomings in the present system:

There are exemptions within the TPO system that mean important heritage trees cannot be protected

The existing TPO tree protection system is reactive and requires foreknowledge of threats which arise from many different sources all linked to change e.g. ownership, land use. There is compelling evidence that many trees worthy of protection are cut down in advance of a planning application being submitted to an LPA.

The Government's stated proposals to widen the provisions for Permitted Development will result in more trees being damaged or cut down without LPAs even being aware of the threat i.e. before they even have an opportunity to consider if a tree merits protection.

Wider availability of web information on existing TPOs, will result in fewer enquiries concerning protected status and thus less advance knowledge of threats to trigger making a TPO.

Surveying, preparing and serving TPOs is often too slow to protect trees when threats become known, due to the ease and rapidity with which they can be felled or damaged.

Pro-actively surveying for and serving TPOs is labour intensive, costly and challengeable in law.

A register of trees of special national importance is needed to provide information and to emphasise their priority to decision makers and generate a more consistent approach across England.

 

3

What we want to see in the Planning Bill

 

3.1

Enhance the effectiveness of the TPO provisions and improve stakeholder consultation by

 

Removal of the test of expediency as a requirement in all cases

Explicit criteria for considering making a TPO on a tree, group of trees or woodland.

Public bodies to have duty to have regard to the desirability of preserving TPO trees or those on a Register and preserving or enhancing the setting of any trees or groups of trees

Replace two tier penalty system with one offence to any works, triable either way - courts to determine appropriate fine/sentence.

Creation of statutory consultees for any proposals to aged and veteran trees, champions or culturally and historically important trees (including those listed on the national Register of Trees of Special Interest).

Simplification to convert a S211 notification sustained objection ('refusal') on making a TPO into a TPO refusal.

 

3.2

A major step forward would be an enabling amendment to S211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 such that similar pre-emptive Conservation Area notification, providing temporary protection, may apply to trees of greatest value.

 

Owners would complete a simple notification form to tell the LPA about their intention to fell or carry out certain works to trees of such size, species, age or location or designation to be set out in regulation.

 

Criteria (by regulation) should include all significant trees but exclude those that are readily replaceable or of less significance - to minimise burdens on owners, contractors and LPAs. Provision should be made for agreement of long term tree management plans for either individual trees or land owners with many trees, minimising administration for all and encouraging good tree management.

 

As in Conservation Areas currently, it would only be necessary, where agreement could not be negotiated/reached with the owner and the impact of the proposal and value of the were considered to merit it, to make a TPO on the tree.

 

3.3

Create a Register of Trees of Special Interest

 

We also believe that a Register would highlight to LPA and to the community the national importance of these trees so that their care and protection can be given the greatest priority.

 

4

Benefits of our proposals

 

 

We believe that our proposals are justified, targeted and appropriate to the risks that face our heritage trees.

We believe that the proposals take account of all the stakeholders who are concerned about our heritage of special trees. They are not only as simple and as user friendly as possible but at the same time they confer the potential for positive advantage. There is clearly considerable support for further amendment of the legislation to ensure such important trees are adequately protected.

For Government and LPAs:

are selective and impact based

are more equitable in its application to tree owners

provide time to consider values of tree against the merits of owners proposals before initiating TPO

provide an opportunity to influence good practice and through advice and guidance avoid damage and loss to trees without necessarily preventing owners plans

enable LPAs to give priority to trees that are easily recognisable of greatest importance .

reduces the need for the making or reviewing of TPOs

provide interim protection to trees to fulfil duties under NERC Act and enable policies to be applied equally to those proposals which require planning permission and those that do not, but which have impacts on trees, associated biodiversity and listed species.

reduce the need to make emergency responses to all the many threats including pre-emptive felling prior to submission of planning applications, this would produce considerable administrative savings (including reducing the need for LPAs to have an out of hours emergency service) and be a fairer and more equitable system.

minimise administration and redirect specialist time to ensuring appropriate tree retention and protection on development sites and promoting good practice tree care throughout the community for the general public benefit.

provide an opportunity subsequently to allow LPAs discretion to retain the present tree controls in Conservation Areas or remove or relax them in line with government policy/intentions for greater local decision making.

 

For owners, the Community and Business

are more proportionate, impact and importance based application of tree protection controls.

a more fair and more equitable system - doesn't disadvantage or alienate those who give an LPA notice of intended works, as all will be required to do so subject to same size criteria related to greatest value and impact

removes potential conflict of interest between consultant/contractors advising clients on trees

 

5

Commitment to specific regulation changes

 

We would like the government to commit to the following amendments in regulations:

Removal of exemptions for dead, dying and nuisance

Amendment of the wording for trees that are dangerous to read: 'consent would not needed for the minimum work that is urgently necessary to prevent danger or preserve the tree itself provided that notice in writing of the proposed operations together with their justification is given to the planning authority as soon as is practicable after the operations become necessary'. (The wording of this exemption is similar to that in the TPO legislation in Scotland).

January 2008



[1] "Taking Part" DCMS Report (2007). More visits were made to Parks and Gardens than historic buildings or castles and ruins.

 

[2] Price, C (2007) Putting a value on Trees: an economist's perspective. Arboricultural Journal Vol 30 No 1 pp7-17