What is a Tree Preservation Order?
Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) were introduced in 1947 as a tool for local authorities to use to protect individual trees and woodland in the interests of preserving the amenity those trees provide to the area.
If a tree is protected by a TPO then it is a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, damage or destroy that tree without the written consent of the local planning authority, and this extends to the cutting of the tree’s roots.
However, the number of homeowners prosecuted each year cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting damaging or destroying a protected tree on their land tends to suggest that those carrying out works on trees are not as careful as they should be in checking whether a tree is protected before the work is carried out.
What is the punishment for breaching a Tree Preservation Order?
Anyone found guilty of wilfully destroying a protected tree, or wilfully damaging that tree in a way that is likely to destroy it, may be fined up to £20,000 in the Magistrates Court and, in serious cases, they may go to the Crown Court, where the potential fine is unlimited.
The Court has the power to impose fines of up to £2,500 for breaches of regulations which do not amount to destruction of the tree.
However, following the decision in a case at the beginning of 2019, it is now clear that there is also the possibility of further financial punishment under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Simon Wilson had been charged with wilfully damaging an oak tree subject to a Tree Protection Order after he cut down some of its branches which were blocking sunlight from his home. The fine he received for the illegal act was just £1,200. But, Poole council then used the Proceeds of Crime Act to recoup an extra £21,000 from Mr Wilson, which was held to be the estimated value (the benefit) which had been added to his house as a result of his criminal conduct.
Overall, Mr Wilson was ordered to pay almost £40,000 because he chopped the branches of an oak tree on his land.
What if you didn’t know about the Tree Preservation Order?
The offence of breaching a TPO is one of strict liability. This means, you may be guilty of an offence even if you had no idea that the TPO existed.
It is always advisable to check with the local planning authority to find out if any or all of your trees are protected by a Tree Preservation Order before beginning any work.
To further complicate matters, trees in a Conservation Area that are not protected by a Tree Protection Order are also protected by legislation. If you want to carry out work to trees in a Conservation Area, then you must give the local planning authority six weeks’ notice of your intentions. This then gives the local planning authority time to decide whether the tree(s) in question should be protected by a TPO.
Are there any exceptions?
There are situation sin which consent may not be required to undertake work on a protected tree, and these include:
- Where the tree in question is dead
- Where the work is required to comply with a statutory obligation
- Where the works are urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm
- Where the tree in question is cultivated for the production of fruit in the course of a business or trade and such work is in the interests of that business or trade
- The removal of dead branches from a living tree
- The work is necessary to implement a planning permission (other than an outline planning permission)
However, to benefit from most of the above exceptions, you must usually provide notice of the proposed works to the local authority.
Do you require legal assistance relating to a protected tree?
Over many years, Hugh Rowland has worked with leading experts and barristers defending alleged breaches of the law relating to trees, in both the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court. This niche area of expertise is called upon by those who have unfortunately felled or damaged trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order without consent, or where trees have been felled without the necessary Forestry Commission licence .
If you need advice on the law relating to trees and planning enforcement, contact Hugh Rowland on 01473 298141 or email [email protected]