I owe quite a bit to TPOs. After all, it was the role of administering them for Dudley Council that gave me my first opening as a tree officer. Looking back, I had the luxury of knowing about trees and some guidance in to the process, and this role, together with planning consultations, was my sole job. I have also benefitted from updated training via the Consulting Arborist Society.
However, to work properly, the administration needs to be effective. I am sure that many arboricultural consultants will have their own accounts of poor practice. However, my recent experience is increasingly leading me to wonder if the system needs to change. It may simply be that there is a lack of tree officers in planning departments across The Provence of Wales, where I have been working recently. I am encountering so many errors or lack of clarity. Should this be a worry? I personally think that if a tree is worth protecting, it should be done properly, and a TPO which cannot be enforced because it wasn’t made properly is a waste of time and resources.
On one site where a new TPO was served, the local authority omitted to include the First Schedule in the document sent to the landowner, and relied on physical tags in the field to identify the trees. The TPO wasn’t confirmed within 6 months, yet when the planning application went to appeal, months later, the authority believed that it was still enforceable and the trees were protected. In that case, the trees were being retained.
There seems to be a trend for planning officers and administrative staff to be doing the work previously undertaken by tree officers. Whilst one doesn’t need to be an arborist to make a TPO, I am encountering officers who have never made these documents before attempting to serve them with minimal guidance. Not only do we have poor documents being made, I am also experiencing members of the public being left in limbo through the experience. One client I recently helped was informed that works proposed (to fell a tree within a Conservation Area, only suggested after taking advise) were unacceptable and a TPO would be served. The poor client has never seen a TPO, and contacted me in desperation. It was only when I spoke to the planning officer concerned that it became apparent no TPO had been served, as it was evident the tree owner wanted to keep the tree!
The opinion has been expressed elsewhere that maybe pruning should exempt from local authority administration. Having spoken to officers at several authorities recently, this is already happening, as planning officers, lacking technical knowledge of the trees concerned are depending on the proposals of applicants. Utter chaos is threatened! Another client, concerned about potential liability if trees by a busy road fell over, proposed pollarding of oaks, as it had worked for a friend (who didn’t have oaks).