Property developers – how trees can impact on your planning application plans

24th March 2021

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Every decision a local planning officer makes to determine the success or failure of your applications for planning permission involves a tug of war between, on one hand, wishing to allow all reasonable use of land, and on the other, a desire to protect the environment in which your property sits. This goes for all extension, construction and change of use requests. The trees that surround your property could well be material to this decision, so it pays to know where risks and opportunities lie with your leafy neighbours.

Your local planning officer holds your project’s prospects in their hands. Their recommendations, based on your application documentation, their site visits, third-party discussions and planning guidance will influence the committee that will make the final decision on your application. Are you prepared for your planning officer charm offensive and do you know how the trees on your site could impact on your planning application?

If you are a property developer, whether of multi-property sites, new builds or refurbs and extensions, we’ve identified three primary considerations for you to be mindful of when you look for your next project.

  1. Tree preservation orders (TPOs)

A TPO is a legal protection, afforded by a local council, covering an individual tree, a group of trees or a whole forest, preventing any work to prune, cut back or remove it. This can put a serious crimp in your planning permission prospects as TPOs will be considered by local planning officers and if your works impact on the likely health and wellbeing of a protected tree then you can be pretty well assured that your application will fail. It’s easy to determine if a property has a protected tree on its grounds because all records are available at the local authority. Essentially, if your plans include extension, demolition or construction and you have a tree with a TPO on it in your way, it’s best to find another site/property.

  • Conservation areas

Trees in conservation areas may or may not be protected by TPOs, but even if they are not, they will be protected by section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which requires anyone looking to do work to a tree in a conservation area to apply for permission with the local planning authority. Needless to say, if the work you’re looking to do is due to your plans to profit from the work you’ll be doing to a property that impacts on the life expectancy of a tree in a conservation area, this will make your planning application that much more complex.

  • SSSI, RIGS and Biological Heritage Sites

These are less likely to be relevant to you as a property developer, but it’s worth noting them in case the land you’re considering for your development is impacted by any of the following:

  1. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are over 4,000 of these in the country, designated as important for the wildlife that lives there or the geology of the land.
  2. Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS). These sites are protected for their landscape features.
  3. Biological Heritage Sites have been designated as such to protect the local wildlife of an area.
  • Proximity/location

If the property you’re looking to work on has trees in close proximity it makes sense to assess the possibility of a local planning officer rejecting your planning approval application on this basis. Planning officers may be overly cautious and believe that particular trees could cause issues in the future when a qualified arborist might be able to certify otherwise. Purchasing a property lemon could cost you dearly and planning permission refusals may also result in additional costs for reapplication that could eat into profits. To have a trusted arborist on speed dial who can conduct all relevant surveys and investigations to determine the risks posed by particular trees could well be invaluable. The resulting reports can also alleviate any worries a local planning officer may have, or drive your design in a different direction so it will be more likely to get approval.

To book a survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees, or to book our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s), call us on 0208 292 8992.

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