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Tree Protection typically limited to 5 years under Planning Conditions after a Planning Permission- after this, all can legally be felled

Guest Lewis White

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Guest Lewis White

Hi, I have just been sorting out my filing cabinet (a real one)  and happened upon correspondence I had some 10 years ago with Croydon Council and a "Self storage" company who built several buildings in the Croydon area about 15 years back, one of which is located on a prominent corner site, on a busy main "A" road in the Waddon area of Croydon.  It was (and remains) is a rather blank structure in general, with large expanses of buff coloured concrete block walls with few windows, but enlivened by the comany's hallmark "Lighthouse" structure at one end.  Also, a 4 or 5 m wide planting bed of evergreen groundcover (the ever-practical Cotoneaster Skogholm and Lonicera pileata) wrapped around the whole frontage, within which large silver birches had been planted at sensible intervals.

After 3 years, the birches looked very good, their fine green leaves, branch tracery,  and silvery trunks providing a much needed and very attractive foil to the external walls. The groundcover was very successful, and gave a continuous green carpet, a living and green basal planting between the street footway and the building itself.

The landscape planting was simple, and was becoming not only attractive in itself, but was improving the quality of the wider streetscape in a bleak and treless section of this main road.  

Amazingly, only one tree died !      3 years.. 4 years.. 5 years....  looking increasingly green and attractive!

5 years and a few days ?  

The site became an enviro-crime scene !!  

Every one of the now 8 m high silver birches was felled.

A few days later, the ground cover was blitzed.

Not actually a joking matter.   A sad and unacceptable.... and avoidable outcome.

I looked up the Planning Permission, granted 5 years before the desecration.  Permission had been granted with a Planning Condition that the development was approved subject to provision of a condition --that (1) a tree planting and landscaping scheme was submitted by the developer and approved by the council  (2) that the trees must be maintained for 5 years after date of permission.   (wording here is my paraphrase)

I was able to search for and find the approved landscape planting layout.  There --on plan- were the birches and the shrubs.

The trouble was--  the trees and shrubs were no longer on the site.  The building was now there, in its stark blandness, an "In your face"  new reality.

Incensed, I contacted the council Planning Department and the Councillor in charge of Environment.  The former confirmed that as the required 5 years had expired, the developer was not in breach of the permission by felling the trees.

I protested that surely, the term "maintain" was to ensure replacement of any trees that died in the establishment period ?   --not to legalise deliberate felling just 5 years after completion.

The senior Councillor was very responsive, very concerned, and did what he coul , but was unable to do anything to get the feelled trees replaced.

I wrote to the company and eventually got a helpfully worded response , but I never got their commitment to replace the trees.

A year or two after, the planting beds were "mulched" with creamy- white pebbles.   No doubt,  saving on grounds maintenance costs as compared with looking after soft landscape .  No trees have ever been replanted.


My primary view was then, and remains, that if a proposed development (with a design life of maybe 50 years) is only rendered acceptable for Planning Permission to be granted, if accompanied by a Landscape design,  the Planning Authority's  intention must be that the approved Landscape Plan and its trees are an integral and ESSENTIAL part of the development.

It follows therefore that the Trees in particular, and perhaps the other key components of the approved landscape design as a whole, such as boundary hedges, should remain intact for the whole of the design life of the building and the development.   It is illogical for any other position.

I have asked a number of  council planning staff for their views........  the response from one senior Planning officer was that "the Government would probably deem such a long lasting condition as placing too great a restriction for future owners of the development", while one Planning Tree Officer said that the trees could be TPO'd immediately after planting.

My considered view is that we need a simple new designation for tree protection of trees and landscape structure planting. Not on every single development perhaps, but on anything prominent or important.

We have had --for decades-  protection for trees in the form of  Tree Preservation Orders (TPO's) and for Trees in Conservation areas.

I would like to suggest to the LI that we should propose to Government a  "Trees and Landscape of Developments Protection Order" .......  a  TLDPO.


Very simply, every Planning Application and Planning Permission should have a key "Landscape Protection drawing" clearly showing the new trees and new planting zones, and also existing trees and hedges for retention.

Some should be marked as "Permanent (trees and hedges) Structure Planting" (the PSP)   These would be required to be retained for the reasonable lifespan of the development. This would be regarded as 50 years minimum.        The idea would also require the developer and Planning authority to determine a sensible "Development life" for each and every development, but this could be banded in the interest of simplicity e.g 50 years. 75 years.    

To allow for future flexibility, less crucial areas of landscape planting within the development could be given "non-permanent" status.  

Planning permission would be required for any changes to the Permanent Structure Planting.   Just as with a TPO or , in a slightly smaller form, an Application for Tree Works in Conservation Areas

In theory, Planning permission is needed for all "engineering works" which should mean that removal of soft landscaped areas and their replacement new hard surfaces such as car parks need a Planning application and permission, but, as we all know, often are built wthout any such application.

The key objective of the TLDPO and the PSP drawing is to set up a clear system that can be easily looked up and understood by the Council, land owner and Public, , inspected (on a Planning Department database and key Map) and easily policed by the Planning Authority

That is my suggestion.  A very simple proposal that just requires a single drawing --the PSP.   and a legal order the TLDPO.

Surely that is not too much to ask? 

I would be grateful for any responses from Forum moderators and members--and from the LI Policy team .


Lewis White  CMLI (retired)

e address        Lewis@november15.org


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Totally agree with you point - feed up also of seeing development built and landscape not even implemented, despite the planning condition requiring it. If a tree is required to be planted in an urban area it should automatically come under TPO. I think we also need to watch out for how much of our 'natural / green urban environment' gets replaced with astro turf and plastic plants! Hope you will follow this up with your branch / LI board / Council.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Actively felling trees is a whole step worse than letting trees die and never replacing them, which is bad enough.  But it happens in residential developments as well as commercial settings, and as the requirement for more street trees starts to filter through in new planning applications, care is needed to ensure they are not all within private front gardens, where their long term future cannot be relied upon.  

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  • 1 month later...
Guest Dominic Waller

Interesting post, Lewis,

I think the tools already exist through planning obligations, TPOs/conservation areas and now through Biodiversity net gain maintenance obligations. The challenge is the resource and burden of proof in enforcement from the LPA and the appetite from the developer/client/site owner. It would make sense to have a 5 year obligation followed by a TPO review at 4.5 years.

Dominic Waller 

Principal Arboriculturist.

Beechland Arboriculture.

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you Dominic,

My informal chats with a few Local Authority Tree Officers are  now a few years back.  My worry is that every council seems to have different views.

The idea of having a "Permanent Structure Planting" drawing for every significant planning application is to standardise the approach--so that there is a very simple, easily understood concept that the planners, developers and general public can understand.      

To be honest, I think that the idea would have to be imposed by national government.  I really ought to put the idea forward to the RTPI and Town and Country Planning Association --as well as the LI .    A new year resolution!  


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