Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) & Conservation Areas

A recent survey by Jon Heuch of all councils in England confirm that there are over 200,000 Tree Preservation Orders in England. The survey also confirmed that there are a number of significant issues relating to their administration:

i) Two non-unitary county councils -Leicestershire and Derbyshire - still administer TPOs even though in the rest of England this function rests with the district/borough/city council. Neither of the two county councils make it easy to find out about their TPOs and neither county is registered with the Planning Portal so it is not easy to submit an electronic tree work application to them via this website.

ii) a number (c. 10) councils claim to have TPOs predating 1947. According to the standard legal work on tree law (Mynors 2nd Edition) these old TPOs are probably unenforceable....but councils have failed to update them.

iii) some councils make it extremely difficult to find out whether a tree is protected or not; the best provide online access via online  mapping (i.e. a GIS) and allow the legal text to be downloaded with no fuss. A search via address also includes conservation area status.

iv) the worst councils provide next to no information on their website (e.g. Watford) or will only answer queries sent in via email (Barnet). Many councils want a fee to provide a copy of a TPO, even if they cannot provide details over the phone, and this fee may amount to £20 or even £30. The fee is justified on the basis of "copying" even though most councils work with pre-existing scanned documents (i.e. in .pdf format).

v) the worst criticism, however, must lie in the issue of "confirmation". All but the oldest TPOs were served as "provisional" TPOs coming into effect immediately, but only valid for 6 months. At the end of the 6 months the TPO should cease to be valid, unless it had been "confirmed". Procedures for confirmation have changed over time and since 2012 TPO administration procedures are now robust. For old TPOs however the situation can be dire. Councils may have made decisions on the basis of confirmation without having any evidence of such confirmation. Recently, I have been made aware of a council prosecuting someone (successfully!) for illegal tree works even though they had no evidence of confirmation. This should not happen!

The Town & Country Planning Act (1990) provides the legal framework for Councils to control works to protected trees. The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation)(England) Regulations 2012 provides the detailed rules on how TPOs are administered. 

Details of both can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/.   

The work that is specifically prohibited without Council permission is (a) cut down; (b) top; (c) lop; (d) uproot; (e) wilfully damage; or (f) wilfully destroy any tree listed in a TPO. 

In Conservation Areas, and as long as no Tree Preservation Order applies, tree owners can give written notification to Councils of their intention to undertake tree works under Section 211 3(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Councils then have the option either to serve a Tree Preservation Order OR to ignore the notification OR to issue a letter of no objection. A few Councils still try to "refuse" such notifications or issue conditional consents, both of which are not valid procedures. 

However, what happens when your application is refused? You can appeal the decision but you can improve your chances of success with professional support. Having worked for several councils and successfully appealed against tree work refusals I can assess your chances of success and advise you accordingly.

Jon Heuch maintains the TPO pages for www.isurv.com - the online source of advice for RICS (Chartered Surveyors). Unfortunately it is a subscriber only service.

Tel 01233 713 657 or email mail@duramen.co.uk