Trees can be vital to the general character of an area and can be at the heart of a particular historic or architectural interest in a site. They obviously require management over time and ultimately replacement.
Removing a tree is unlikely to require planning permission, but there is direct control over trees in conservation areas and over those subject to tree preservation orders. The fact that a development proposal will require changes to trees can be a material consideration in whether to give permission for those works.
More specifically, a local planning authority is subject to a legal duty to ensure, wherever it is appropriate, that in granting planning permission for any development adequate provision is made, by the imposition of conditions, for the preservation or planting of trees (1).
Trees in Conservation Areas
Anyone proposing to carry out works to a tree in a conservation area must give at least six weeks notice to the local planning authority (3). There are exceptions to this requirement, including when the tree is dead, dying or has become dangerous. This notice period gives the local planning authority the opportunity to decide if it is necessary to impose a tree preservation order on the tree in order to discharge its duty to have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the conservation area.
If the authority decides the tree is not a part of the special character or appearance of the area it may give consent or allow the notice to lapse without response. Otherwise it should refuse consent and consider imposing a tree preservation order. It is a criminal offence to carry out works to a tree where consent has been refused or where notice was required and not served on the local planning authority.
Trees in conservation areas that are already subject to tree preservation orders are subject to that regime only and no separate conservation area notice is required (3).
Where a tree in a conservation area has been removed illegally or because it is dead, dying or dangerous or causing a nuisance, a replacement tree must be planted by law (4). The tree must be of an appropriate size and species. The local planning authority can enforce this requirement and ultimately come onto the land itself to carry out the planting and then recover the cost from the owner.
Tree Preservation Orders
Individual trees or groups of trees within or outside of a conservation area may be offered protection by a tree preservation order issued by a local planning authority where it is expedient to do so in the interest of amenity.
Central government’s view (5) is that such orders should be used where there is a reasonable degree of public benefit from the tree's retention. This may be because the tree is an element of the heritage significance of a conservation area, registered park or garden or of the setting of a listed building, scheduled monument, battlefield or other heritage asset.
Trees may have added value because they screen an eyesore or future development, or because of their scarcity.
Trees and Planning Policy
The significance of specific trees and groups of trees can be identified in the local planning authority’s evidence base for its core strategy and local development plan. The role of trees in the historic environment should be acknowledged in the plan and in conservation area appraisals.
The strategic analysis of the importance of trees in the area can promote a sound basis for reviewing existing tree preservation orders, issuing new orders and retaining existing orders as necessary.
In accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework "development resulting in loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or woodland trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons" (6). 'Ancient woodland' is an area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600AD and an 'aged or veteran tree' is a tree which, because of its age, size or condition is of exceptional biodiversity, cultural or hertiage value (7).
(6) Paragraph 175, National Planning Policy Framework, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, June 2019
(7) Annex 2: Glossary, National Planning Policy Framework, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, June 2019