The owner of a tree has a responsibility to ensure that it does not become a danger to other parties, including neighbours. Regular inspections are advisable to identify the appearance of rot, fungus or disease which can render a tree dangerous. An owner who is negligent in these responsibilities may be held liable if a falling tree/branch causes damage. This is particularly important when branches overhang the public highway, or following adverse weather. An owner may formally be requested to remove dangerous branches by the Highway Authority. Utility companies, such as electricity, gas, water and telecoms have some powers to remove trees or branches which interfere with their services. Check the health of your trees regularly, you could be liable for them.
Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) are orders to protect groups, areas or individual trees that make a significant contribution to local surroundings. The Council can make a TPO if it considers that a single tree, group of trees or a woodland makes an important contribution to the amenity of the area or is under threat. It is an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree without first getting permission from the Council. The Law on TPOs is in Part VIII of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 ('the Act') and in the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999 ('the 1999 Regulations') which came into force on 2 August 1999. There are over 280 TPOs in force throughout the Borough. A statutory register of all protected trees is available for public inspection at the Borough Offices upon request. The Council is happy to consider suggestions from the public for TPOs, especially where trees of high quality are found to be under threat. The Council does not place TPOs on trees within their ownership. You can check on the Council's interactive map to see whether your tree is protected by a TPO or within a Conservation Area.
Making an Order
A recommendation for an Order can be authorised by the Head of Planning. An Order can be made immediately effective for up to six months where a tree is deemed to be under threat. The Order is served on the owner, who has 28 days in which to make any objections. The Council then determines whether or not to confirm the Order within the six-month period. The Order is recorded in the Council's Land Charges Register and with the District Land Registry. If you buy or sell a property with a TPO, this will appear in the local search.
Responsibility for care of trees
The owner(s) of the land on which the tree(s) are situated remain(s) responsible for the trees. They must carry any financial cost involved in the management of the trees. However, the Council's consent must be sought before any works to protected trees are carried out, application forms can be downloaded or made via the planning portal. Owners can be requested to replace trees that have been damaged or felled.
An application should be made in writing to the Council if a tree has a TPO on it or is within a Conservation Area, specifying the trees affected and the nature of the works proposed. You can use the interactive map to show if the area/property of interest is covered by a TPO or is within a Conservation area. All tree works applications can be viewed on the Council website. The Council then has six weeks in which to issue a decision notice. Planting of replacement specimens will normally be required when consent is given to remove protected trees. In carrying out works to trees, specialist advice should always be sought. A list of tree surgeons is available on request or can be viewed here. The Council's tree officer will assess the application and a decision notice will be issued. Copies of Tree Preservation Orders can be purchased from the Council by calling 01992 785555 and asking for the Development Management Admin section.
If you believe a tree to be dangerous and it is protected by a TPO, you are required to give the Council five working days' written notice of the works that are required. In an emergency, please telephone the Planning Department or the Council's Tree Officer, where possible photo's should be attached to the request.
If the Council refuses permission to carry out works then an appeal can be made to the Secretary of State within 28 days of the receipt of the Council’s notice. Application forms can be found on the Planning Inspectorate's website.
Appeals should be sent to:
It is an offence to cut down, uproot or destroy a protected tree, or damage a tree in a way that is likely to destroy it. Anyone convicted of this offence can face a fine of up to £20,000. An unlimited fine can also be imposed equal to the rise in land value resulting from tree clearance. Undertaking work on protected trees without destroying it is also an offence carrying a fine of up to £2,500. Liability for prosecution can involve not just an individual or company which does the work but anyone who permits or engages a tree contractor.