Advice on Planning Permission and Trees

How to deal with the issues surrounding planning permission and trees on your self-build plot.


Having tall, mature trees on your plot can be a great asset to your new home, giving it a sense of establishment which many new builds can lack, but it is vital that you consider the issues surrounding planning permission and trees before you begin your project. Trees can cause some major difficulties when building on a virgin plot, and are often fiercely protected from being removed for the sake of building. You may find that your project cannot go ahead at all if the trees already standing there cannot be removed or fitted into the designs.

Dealing with Planning Permission and Trees:

The Legalities of Planning permission and trees

The removal or damage of a protected tree is a criminal offence. Therefore, it is advisable that the first thing you find out about your plot is whether any of the trees upon it are protected by a TPO (Tree Preservation Order). TPOs can be applied to single trees, groups of trees, or entire areas of woodland.

With the exception of fruit trees, any tree within a conservation area is treated as though it is protected with a TPO. The protection is applied to any tree which is over 75mm diameter, but trees of anywhere up to 100mm can be felled to allow for the growth of younger trees. It is worth noting that just because a tree is protected, it is not necessarily completely impossible to legally fell it. Protection means that the council will consider the preservation of the tree of greater importance when considering your panning proposal. The removal of trees is more likely to be allowed where the trees are not very special, or where new trees, perhaps of a more appropriate species, can be planted as compensation in a more suitable location.

Planning permission and trees, Assessments and Surveys

When making an application for planning, you will be asked whether any trees exist either onsite or nearby which will be affected by the works you propose to carry out. If this is so, you will need to submit a tree survey alongside your proposal. If the survey shows that the trees will be affected, you must have an Arboricultural Impact Assessment carried out.

The Assessment is used to identify the trees, determining their species, age, size, and quality, and to rate them against the criteria of British Standard 5837:2005. Based upon the trees’ size and age, the report will also give the required root protection area for each tree. The impact which the proposed works are likely to have on the trees is then assessed, and recommendations are made regarding which trees could be felled, and how to best protect those remaining on the plot.

Planning permission and Trees which pose a danger or hindrance

Trees can prove very restrictive to a build. They can block light and views, and minimise the visibility from your plot out along the road. You should never assume just because you are happy with a tree being very close to the house, that the council will be too.

You can deal with the problems of planning permission and trees in on of three ways:

- Negotiate: You can help avoid objections to the felling of existing trees by including proposals for replacement trees into your initial application. If you opt for this option, make sure to find out which species the replacements ought to be where they would best be located. You might find it useful to get some advice from a garden designer. This way, you will be able to put forward a landscape proposal alongside the rest of your plans. Many councils will enforce their own landscaping conditions when they grant planning permission for new builds, so having your own plans drawn up beforehand could save you the time needed to draw them up later.

- Have the trees re-assessed: In some cases, the initial assessment will have missed some points which a further assessment might pick up. You might find that a previously undiscovered issue with the tree or trees in question means that its life expectancy is not as long as previously thought, therefore lending greater justification to its felling.

A tree’s importance is almost purely subjective, and if you feel that any report has given too much importance to any tree, then take a look yourself. See how the plot might look to the public passing by on roads or footpaths without the tree in place.

- Make the first move: Unprotected trees are essentially yours to do what you wish with. Removing them before applying for planning permission can avoid the issues they might cause later on, such as the council imposing TPOs after planning is applied for. However, beware of neighbours and tree officers who might take offence to your bold actions. Making enemies and prompting objections before you have even applied for planning can be a dangerous thing to do.

If you fell a tree this way, be sure to do so long before applying for planning permission. Any land which has recently had a tree cut from it is likely to ‘heave’, meaning that the soil soaks up the moisture previously taken by the tree. This will need to be considered when designing foundations, so make sure your building designer is aware of any such intentions.

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