For me, my career in arboriculture really took off when I was appointed Tree Officer in Planning for Dudley Council. I was responsible for the administration of the TPO service, among other things. Whilst a decade has passed since I left Dudley, I look back fondly on those days. Protection of trees using TPOs is a key tool for the arborist and urban forester.
Attending Richard Nicholson’s course ‘Tree Preservation Orders: Effective Application’ provided a welcome refresher for me, in part because he reviewed the 2012 Regulations, and the differences between dealing with TPOs in England compared to Wales. Richard briefly explored the role of planning conditions in protecting trees. The consensus was that these are of limited value, in part because the consequences of a breach can be limited, and also planning conditions generally last only five years at most.
Talking with delegates, I realised that the experience of the tree survey being a condition of approval was not limited to me. I remember visiting a site near to me in rural Herefordshire back in the summer, where a tree survey showing the Tree Protection Plan was a condition of approval. It happens that with that particular site, the owner wish to build a single property, and was keen to retain trees, their presence being an important feature of the setting. It was notable that the request for the survey came from a landscape officer, and not the tree officer. Fortunately, there was no conflict between the proposed development and the trees to be retained. I do wonder what happens when there is an issue.
I was working on a school site in Dulwich during the summer. The site contains a fantastic specimen London Plane, which is being retained. I am not sure whether it is covered by a TPO, but there is sufficient local importance attached to its’ retention (which is merited) that I was instructed, as Project Arboriculturist, to supervise excavation works to remove tarmac around the base. The site was tight, and I realised during one visit that some trees which were to be retained were now being affected as the practicalities of construction became apparent. Scaffolding, it seemed, may not have been fully accommodated in the design. I realised that several trees which should have been retained, would not be.
I read this week of tree felling on a proposed development site in Manthorpe in Grantham, where the developer wishes to construct some 550 new homes. The argument of tree safety was raised. I cannot say whether this was merited, although in my experience, it can be used when convenient to facilitate the removal of trees others wish were not present. Anyway, residents and local councillors spoke of their anguish, and disappointment that the planning process was not being adhered to. One councillor said that he noted the premature decision to clear the site, and did not approve. Problem with all this beating of chests is that and expressing disapproval is, as someone associated with the site pointed out, the trees were not protected, and there was nothing to stop the landowner felling the trees. With a resigned feeling deep down, I pondered on the lack of action by the local authority in making a TPO for the site.
I have spoken before of the frustration when encountering poor administration or the inappropriate use of a TPO. Several years ago, the potential for dormouse habitation (which evidence suggested was very unlikely) within a woodland which needed significant management was used to limit the extent of the work. It still required quite onerous arrangements to be put in place to ensure none of these little chaps would be affected, and was not within the spirit of the legislation. However, I’d rather experience these frustrations than see trees being felled unnecessarily because the protection measures which are available have not been used.
Anyway, I’m off to survey some more trees now, and find a slot in the diary for the next Mortgage Report Writing course.