Byline: PAUL COURTINE
AFTER parking and traffic, the loss of trees is often the most contentious element of a development proposal. Developers can often be amazed at how even the most placid of local residents can turn into the most ardent of "tree huggers" in the blink of an eye when they find out that some of "their" neighbourhood trees might be felled. What should developers be aware of when it comes to trees?
Trees benefit from special protection under the law, which goes as far as imposing a duty on local councils to ensure that, whenever it is appropriate, adequate provision is made for the preservation or planting of trees when planning permission is granted.
Many councils, such as Tynedale and Gateshead, back this up with a range of planning policies directed at trees and the wildlife habitats they provide.
These requirements mean that trees need to be given consideration at every stage of the development process, from the selection of sites, through to designing proposals and even after the development is completed.
Where there are existing trees on a development site, a developer should first check to see whether any of them are subject to a tree preservation order.
This is an order made by the local council which prevents almost any work to a tree being carried out without the council's permission.
The penalties for carrying out unauthorised work, which can include even a small task like trimming a branch, can be severe and result in an unlimited fine. Trees in a conservation area benefit from the same level of protection even without a tree preservation order having to be made.
In order to avoid the risk of a criminal prosecution, it is therefore essential for a developer to check if any trees are protected.
However, even then the sight of workmen with chainsaws clearing a site of trees can prompt a flood of calls to the council from concerned residents. This has the potential to result in the council making an order straight away and bringing the work on site to a halt.
There is no right to appeal the making of an order, although some have been successfully challenged in court. When an application for planning permission is submitted, the application form requires details of whether any trees will be felled and if so, the submission of a tree survey.
If permission is obtained, some protected trees lose their protection and can be felled, however this exemption is limited in scope and care needs to be taken. …