Stephen Downing, the Council’s tree officer for planning, talked to CAG about his role and responsibilities with regard to trees in the borough.
1. Stephen Downing was responsible for all statutory tree protections. He was the statutory consultee on all development applications and all tree preservation orders across the borough. Andy Robinson and his team were responsible for all the local authority owned trees including on highways and in parks.
2. There was no guidance or Council policy setting out the amount of tree cover needed in a particular area, although this was an area that the Council may be looking at as part of climate change mitigation.
3. All trees in a conservation area with a trunk diameter of 75mm measured at 1.5 metres above ground level were protected through legislation. Anyone who wanted to carry out work on a tree of this size had to notify the Council of their intentions. The Council then had 6 weeks to respond and to decide if it wished to protect a tree using a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
4. The Council could respond to the notification in only two ways. They could either respond with no objections or grant a tree preservation order. The criteria for serving a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) was whether it was expedient in terms of public amenity. The term amenity had not been defined in the legislation. It was for Council to interpret it.
5. For a tree preservation order to be served, trees also had to be viewable from the street, in whole or in part, or be an exceptional specimen. Trees in back gardens, for instance, that are not visible from the street, were unlikely to be protected.
6. A widely used, by the industry, amenity assessment tool was used to assess trees for preservation. Every tree was scored on a points based system. There was no written Council policy at present.
7. Currently biodiversity issues could not be used as reason to protect a tree
8. Land owners have a right of appeal when a tree preservation order was served.
9. There was no requirement to consult the public on tree works in a conservation area, but all notifications were publicly viewable. Works carried out had to follow what was set out in the notification. It would be an offence to do something different.
10. If a tree falls down and damages other property, the land owner would be responsible.
11. On the Council website there was a boroughwide plan of all the trees protected by tree preservation orders. Stephen Downing would send information about any new TPO’s to the GIS team who would add them to the website.
12. About eight TPOs have been served this year so far.
13. An application to carry out work to a TPO tree had to be submitted to the Council in a similar way to a planning application.
14. Only neighbouring properties have to be notified about tree preservation orders.
15. Officers were kept informed about notifiable pests and diseases.
16. There are very few cases of illegal tree works. For carrying out work on a tree preservation order tree without permission there were two possible levels of offence. If the works done were reasonable and would have been allowed if permission had been sought, then a maximum fine of £1,500 could be imposed. If a tree had been wilfully destroyed or damaged, then an unlimited fine could be imposed.
17. Any enforcement action is carried out after consideration of the public interest. Recently there have been two cases where the full procedure has been implemented. Some trees that are protected are not always worthy of protection.
18. Concern was expressed about the number of trees being felled as part of the Berkeley Homes development in Trent Park. Members were assured that detailed protections were in place and that the Council was working closely with the developers who were keen to improve the landscape for the long term.
19. All tree work had to be carried out within existing legislation which is unlikely to change. Conservation groups could help by bringing issues to the fore and by lobbying councillors to change council policies to ensure that the impact on wider issues such as biodiversity and climate change could be taken account when making decisions relating to trees. The Council had the power to define what an amenity was considered to be.
20. Stephen Downing could be contacted directly via his council email address.
21. Conservation group members felt that it was important to ensure retention of trees in back gardens especially when they were part of the character of a conservation area. Members felt that CAG should do more to lobby councillors to do more to extend protections to trees in back gardens.
22. If conservation group members were aware of illegal works taking place, they should contact enforcement officers.
23. Members thanked Stephen Downing for his contribution to the meeting and for his responses to questions.