Trees and Planning: Artists’ Impressions and Heritage Statements

Quite a few of us in the Bristol Tree Forum review Planning Applications where trees might be affected in an effort to highlight avoidable tree fellings, to bring tree issues (such as the failure to abide by Bristol’s environmental planning policies) to local residents’ and Councillors’ attention, or to at the very least check to see that the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard is being enforced.

It takes time and can be tedious. It means a lot of reading of Arboricultural Reports and Arboricultural Impact Statements, and Architects’ and Designers’ “Heritage Statements”, looking at “Artists Impressions” and viewing CGIs of the final ‘vision’ for a new build.

Inevitably we become a bit sceptical about these reports and illustrations when it comes to trees.

If it was not so sad it could almost be amusing, because so often we see, in the Artists’ Impressions and the Computer-Generated Images, that trees are everywhere, around the new build, softening the scene and contributing to the environment. But they are also attempting to fool the reader because, in the Arboricultural reports with the Application, we read that those very trees shown in the drawings as being extant are the ones about to be felled! Or, trees that will be lost are owned up to in the arboricultural reports, but there will just be no space left at the end for the trees shown in the pictures, yet there they are, making it look like a land of milk and honey.

We know that developing a site often leads to the loss of trees. At least we have in Bristol the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard so that there is some (eventual) mitigation for tree loss, either on site if there is still space, or on public land reasonably nearby.

But the illustrations of tree filled spaces around new developments, either showing existing trees retained or new trees, are so often a ‘misdirection’, drawn in to make you think that everything will be alright and is acceptable, and that it doesn’t matter really.

They should not fool you and please don’t be fooled. You need to read the detail.

20/04536/F: The Arboricultural report recommends the removal of the very trees illustrated as they are of poor quality.

 The trees as they are now
The same trees in the Heritage Statement

18/01087/F: The TPO tree in the rear right hand side of the illustration below was removed by the developer as part of the Application (Its replacement was conditioned but that is another story!). But here it is in the watercolour artist’s impression of the completed build – looking lovely even though it was soon to be ‘rubbed out’.

10/00012/FB: Colston Girls’ School was granted permission for the the erection of a three storey arts block on Cheltenham Road and the associated felling and replacement of a London Plane growing on the pavement outside.

The tree on 2008

Skanska design and access statement for the new building for Colston Girls’ School on Cheltenham Road.  The tiny small print in the bottom left was added to a revised version of the design and access statement submitted just before the planning meeting in Sept 2009 when the period for comments had closed.  The red ovals were added by community campaigners at the time to highlight the tree to be lost.  No reason was given for the removal of this important street tree but it is assumed that it was to improve construction access to the site.  Permission was granted.

The reality…spot the tree..


Our main photograph is some early publicity material for  the Redland High School for Girls development, now known as Redland Court.  It showed how the development might look when finished.  With one glaring problem.  Most of the trees on the left of the photograph have now been felled. 

X marks the Not.

Where the building was screened by a large number of trees on the edge of the site it is now brutally bare.  We don’t know why the developer did this as the trees are nowhere near any of the new buildings.  Nor can we understand why Bristol City Council gave them permission, ignoring its own green planning policies.   But it is clear that those selling the flats and houses still wanted to pretend that the trees were actually going to be there.

Stephanie French & Vassili Papastavrou, Bristol Tree Forum

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