The Government has announced plans to create greater protections for trees in urban areas. The proposals would ensure councils can’t cut down street trees without first consulting their local communities.
The measures are intended to reflect the important role trees in towns and cities play in improving our health and wellbeing, as well as providing crucial environmental benefits.
The proposals include:
- making sure communities have their say on whether street trees should be felled with requirements for councils to consult local residents.
- responsibilities on councils to report on tree felling and replanting to make sure we can safeguard our environment for future generations.
- giving the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling and strengthen protection of wooded landscapes.
Interested parties have been invited to participate in the consultation. The proposals are based on the December 2018 paper, Protecting and Enhancing England’s trees and woodlands.
If you want to submit your own response, you will need to do so by 28th February 2018.
Here are Bristol Tree Forum’s responses to the questions asked:
Should a duty for local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees be introduced?
It has been argued that it is too onerous for tree officers to consult on every single felling. Bristol Tree Forum believes that there are often alternatives to felling which should be considered, especially given how difficult it is to re-create canopy once it has been lost. Clearly, there should be consultation on a management plan to manage street trees. In other words if the goal is to stabilise canopy loss and even increase it, then a cost-benefit analysis has to be done to see if this might better be achieved by retaining an existing tree and managing its defects, or felling it and replacing with several new trees. The key is to consider street trees as capital assets. Thus, the cost of their replacement should be included in any management programme.
In addition, there should be consultation over planned major highways works to ensure that the minimum number of trees are lost, as well as taking the opportunity to maximise the possibility of planting new ones during the works.
Do you agree with the proposed scope of the duty to consult?
Street trees form just one part of the urban forest.
Giving just street trees special protection without also protecting the wider urban forest and allowing consultation on all issues affecting the place of trees in the whole urban space, will result in the fragmentation of policies affecting the way the urban forest and its contribution to green infrastructure is managed.
Do you agree with the government’s preferred approach of a closed consultation with trigger point?
These are the three consultation models proposed (the government’s preference is for option C):
Our preferred option is Option A: Full Consultation.
Placing notices just on trees will only inform those who happen to pass the tree and might or might not then take an interest.
At the very least, the notice should be published online. This should not create an undue addition bureaucratic burden on Local authorities, as most will have tree management systems already in place that can be adapted to facilitate the automatic publication of these notices.
In this way those with a wider interest in the protection of street trees, such as Bristol Tree Forum and other community groups, will have an opportunity to engage in the process and offer comments and insights which those living locally (an area of just 100m2?) who are invited to make ad hoc comments in particular instances might not necessarily be aware of.
In any event, defining ‘local residents’ as just those living inside a 100m2 area is very unlikely to include all those who might take want to make a comment. For example removing a single tree from among many planted along a street is likely to be of interest to all the residents of the street, not just those living within 100 metres. Busy roads, where street trees are vitally needed, often have few residents. Another reason why it is necessary to involve local groups in consultation.
In what circumstances do you think a tree should be exempt from the duty to consult?
Only dangerous trees which present an immediate danger (‘immediate danger’ will need to be very carefully defined) where work is urgently needed to remove that danger should be felled without prior consultation.
In all other circumstances, trees can be (and should have been) progressively managed in line with well-established risk management processes which will monitor any risk over time as it develops.
Even dead trees have a place in the urban biosphere, and may not necessarily need to be removed just because they are dead but do not present an immediate danger.
We are also concerned that, if the duty to consult is too widely exempted, it will undermine the wider purpose of this policy to require public bodies to consult.
In any event, all consultations should be “proper” as defined by Lord Woolf in R v North East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan  QB 213 (para 108): “…To be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; adequate time must be given for this purpose; and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken…”.
Do you think it is appropriate that trees of special historic or cultural significance are subject to a more rigorous consultation process?
Do you agree with the criteria for designating a tree of special historic or cultural significance?
Are there any other categories which should be included?
Trees falling within the definitions of Ancient and Veteran trees as set out in Natural England’s standing advice, “Ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees: protecting them from development” should also be made subject to a more rigorous consultation process. For this to be effective, Local authorities will need to develop registers of ancient and veteran trees.
Also Trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order or growing in a Conservation Area where the Local Authority does not consider that a prior planning application is required because the proposed works fall come within Permitted Development Rights (or for any other reason) should also be included. See, for example, Bristol City Council’s response to Cotham School’s proposal to erect a fence around Stoke Lodge Playing Fields in such a way that trees protected by a TPO would be damaged; Bristol City Council did not require the school to make a planning application for prior consent to work in and around these trees because the works (it decided) fell within the school’s permitted development rights. The Council’s approach, which seems to be unique across the UK, has had the effect of denying the community an opportunity to make representations or offer comments as it would have been able to do had a planning application been required.
There also needs to be a process to allow TPOs to be put on important trees that are on public land, and to facilitate the process of consultation when this is being done.
Do you think that the duty to consult will have any negative impacts on development?
Should consultations be done on an individual basis or in groups of trees where, for example, trees are planted in the same location?
The duty to consult will depend on the circumstances. In some cases it may be more appropriate to impose a duty to consult where a group of trees is likely to be affected – say a wood, copse or grove or were some or all of the trees in a given street are under consideration. In other circumstances, it will be sufficient to consult where only an individual tree is under consideration.
In addition, there should be proper consultation regarding the management principles to be taken into consideration when making a decision on any tree or group of trees.
Should a duty on local authorities to report on tree felling and planting be introduced?
Without open access to such decisions there is no way for communities to engage with decisions either on a case-by-case basis or in a wider and more long-term context where trends and outcomes may not be immediately visible but evolve over time.
Reports on planting should stipulate the size of trees, tree species and the category of spaces where they have been planted (e.g. streets). Planting one street tree is several hundred times more expensive than planting a whip in a park, but it is not simply a numbers game.
Which trees would it be useful to report on?
All trees in the Local Authority’s tree stock need to be reported on and mapped.
This might be on a tree-by-tree basis (such as street trees), or where clearly definable canopy areas can be mapped, and it is impracticable to survey every tree within the canopy. In many cases the importance of trees lies not just in their individual existence, but also in the contribution they make to overall tree canopy cover (TCC).
Please explain the reason for your answer.
Trees do not just serve an aesthetic role or provide visual amenity in the urban environment. Increasingly it is recognised that they also provide significant environmental and health benefits – carbon and pollution capture, rainfall run-off and heat island mitigation together with acknowledged health benefits are just some examples. It is now widely accepted that the effective management of urban tree stocks to enhance these effects has become an essential tool in helping public authorities and urban communities to mitigate some of the negative effects of living in the urban space.
So, if there is no understanding of what a Local Authority’s tree stock is, then there is little prospect of taking advantage of what it can and might offer.
What information do you think local authorities could gather and hold?
The data maintained by Bristol City Council and available as open data via its web page Open Data Bristol and its ArcGIS servers is a model of how Local authorities can gather and hold information about their tree stocks.
How could local authorities present this information?
See our answer to question 16. There are many other similar examples across the UK. By publishing its base data (preferably built on a consistent national data model structure) about tree stocks in an open access data format. Local authorities can also enable community engagement and so allow more sophisticated and enriched knowledge systems to be developed by local communities.
For example, Bristol Tree Forum has developed its sister Trees of Bristol web site which provides a much richer, interactive experience for users than is available just by presenting the raw data.
Should national Government play a role in collating and managing information?
By publishing national best practice standards and devising a standard framework whereby data is gathered, including ensuring that the data generated is available through publicly accessible open data platforms and formatted to be machine readable.
Do you agree that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their trees and woodlands?
Would best practice guidance be sufficient for local authorities and the public?
Best practice is very important and must be encouraged, but without a legal framework which obliges Local authorities (and other public bodies) to comply with their obligation to consult and which gives communities a prompt and inexpensive way of obliging them to do so, there is little or any prospect of success.
Do you agree with the suggested content for best practice guidance for Tree and Woodland Strategies?
Government should produce best practice guidance to support local authorities in drawing up, consulting on and publishing their Tree and Woodland strategies to enable them to take a long-term, strategic approach to these resources, and provide another route for them to set out their tree policies clearly to the public and so increase transparency and accountability.
Do you support these measures?
But there should be additional measures such as those addressed in this response.