Helping your Neighbourhood Partnership deal with Planning Applications that affect trees

1     Obtain Planning Applications from Bristol City Council (BCC)

Each week, BCC sends out an email list of all new planning applications to all those who have asked for one. To get your free copy, email development.management@bristol.gov.uk and ask for your email address to be included in the list of recipients. Remember to tell them that you represent a Residents’ Group as a Tree Champion (or similar) for your Neighbourhood Partnership.

2     Then find the bits relevant for you

A weekly MS Word and a PDF version, called cd-weekly-list [ddMMyy], will be sent to you as an attachment. This usually arrives on a Monday. Both are interactive with links to the BCC Development website. To examine applications in your area, either click in the PDF version or hold down the Ctrl key  and then click in the MS Word version on the Ward name in the index page. You will be taken to the relevant section of the list for that Ward.

For example:

planning-page-example

When you click on Cabot you will be taken to the entries for Cabot ward. You can then click on any address listed. Each application is displayed with a number and a suffix code. These application numbers are interactive, so clicking on them will take you to the online application page. The Application number will look like this – Application No. 16/00556/VC. Once you are in the Application page then the fun begins!

3     Should you sign up and log in?

You do not have to, but registering on the web site does make commenting easier as you are required to enter your details for each application you comment on, so it will be quicker and easier if you create a profile so that you can log in to each time you work on the site. This saves you having to re-write your details each time. When completing the registration form, identify yourself as a Tree Champion – maybe after your surname (e.g. [J] Doe (Cabot Ward Tree Champion).

4     Tree Applications

All Residents and businesses must apply for Planning Permission when planning works to trees which are either In a Conservation Area or have a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) placed on them, but you may also come across planning applications where developers need to or want to fell trees to enable the development to proceed.

Once you decide to look at an application there are several stages to consider. Each Planning >> Application Summary page has several layers to it and you may need to look at most of these (see below).

5     Should I look at all Applications?

Ideally, yes. Scroll through the list of all applications in your chosen Ward(s). You will not have to look at all the applications in detail, but do maintain a high index of suspicion. If in doubt – take a peek.

For some applications, the code at the end of the application number can help:

VC – works to trees in a Conservation Area.

VP – works to living trees with a TPO.

VD – works to a dangerous tree with a TPO.

Some applications are obviously about trees. For example, “Application to fell a conifer……….”, but issues about trees may be hidden in amongst other applications (this is where you will develop a sixth sense). For example:

  • Applications to build new buildings in wooded areas, or involving landscaped gardens around a public building (e.g. a Police Station or a Hall of Residence) are likely to affect trees; or
  • Applications to build extensions to houses could also lead to a loss of trees.

However, applications to replace a conservatory with an extension, or change a shop sign, are unlikely to affect trees.

If an application’s listed documents contain an arboricultural report, then trees are affected.

Applicants are required say whether trees or hedges will be affected by a proposed development, but they sometimes either omit to answer the question or answer it untruthfully. If you have any doubts, look at the plans – these might show trees affected by the development.

6     Even if I have found a tree application, which ones should interest me?

As you get experienced at this task you will be able to answer this question for yourself.

Applications that are for crown reduction, crown lifting or pollarding are usually not as drastic as tree felling, and decisions about this are often best left to council Tree Officers. Applications relating to trees that are declared as dead, dying or dangerous are also best left to the professionals, but check any arboricultural report provided first.

If a tree is subject to a Tree Protection Order (a TPO) or in a Conservation Area, Tree Officers can require that the applicant provide a replacement tree. This is something you might want to comment on.

The only way that a Tree Officer can save a threatened tree is to put a TPO on it – even if it is a tree in a Conservation Area. However, for a tree to be made the subject of TPO, it must meet certain criteria. Currently, this requires that:

  1. It is a fine or good specimen of its species; and
  2. it provides a public visual amenity (i.e. it is visible from a public space, usually the street).

Sadly, other good things about trees in general – e.g. that they contribute to life on this planet and improve our general well-being in so many ways – do not count.

Also, if a tree which is the subject of a TPO comes under threat, it must continue to justify its TPO at the time the application is made. This means that if it has deteriorated (maybe because of poor management), or become included in back gardens because of previous surrounding development, or it no longer provides a public visual amenity, then it may lose its TPO and may be lost.

For more information on Tree Protection Orders, follow this link.

7     Special circumstances

The Bristol Tree Forum encourages Bristolians to bring to the attention of BCC Tree Officers the following suspicious circumstances; Say, where there has been an application to fell tree(s) on land which is in a Conservation Area, but then, some months later, another planning application is made to develop the same piece of land. In these cases, a developer may try to avoid replacing the trees that will be lost by the development.

BCC has its own Bristol Tree Replacement Standard to ensure that trees lost to development are replaced either at the development site or on nearby public land. The number of trees required to be planted depends upon the girth of the trees lost. As this can be quite expensive, developers and house owners might try to avoid this! These split applications are one way of doing this. Tree Officers may spot these deliberate attempts – but vigilance by, and support from, others helps. Once spotted, the planners can enforce the requirement to replace trees – but the interval must not be too long – currently it is one year.

There is also a BCC policy called BCS9 which requires ‘green infrastructure’ on a development site (e.g. a tree or trees) to be preserved if possible, even if this means re-orientating or slightly re-designing the planned for building so that any green infrastructure that is worthy of retention can be kept and incorporated into the development. Spotting these opportunities and encouraging others in your area make comments on the planning website and bringing this to the attention of local Councillors can help Tree Officers enforce the policy and so save the trees.

8     Finding your way to and around applications

One is to click on the application number in the weekly list e-mailed to you by BCC. This will take you to the Planning >> Application Summary page. Here is an example. Clicking each tab will take you to more details and documents about the application.

planning-application-summary-page

The other method is to use the BCC planning website at http://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/search.do?action=simple and do a search:

planning-application-search-page

9     The planning application summary page

The Planning >> Application Summary page tells you what the application is all about. You will have seen this on the weekly list and used it to guide you as to whether to look into an application. Then there are six tabs and four buttons available. Clicking on each provides you with more information.

Important Dates – tells you how long you have got to comment or to muster support.

Status – allows you to see if a decision has been made, or if it is pending.

Constraints – allows you to see if the property is in a Conservation Area or if the tree has a TPO.

Related Cases – links to other properties where there may be associated issues.

You can also find the history of planning applications for the property by following the cascade.

The bottom line in the Summary Tab will tell you how many properties are affected – usually one. Click on that and you will be taken to the property address. Click on that will open a four-tabbed window. One of those is a Property History – all the previous (and current) planning applications that have been made. Examining this history can help you see if recent, previous applications have been made to fell or change trees which might have been a precursor to the current application.

 The Documents tab – This is the most important tab to look at. It is wise to look at all documents listed but, you should look for the following documents:

The Application Form – This will tell you if trees or hedges are affected and whether they are in a conservation area to subject to a TPO.

The Site plan (not always provided). This allows you to see where any threatened if trees are and if they might be visible from the street. Google Street View is also a good way to ‘look’ at the site remotely – just enter the address into Google Maps and select Street View, you can often see a lot from there.

An Arboricultural Report may also be provided if the applicant knows trees are under threat or are to be felled.

The Comments tab – Allows you to make a comment on the application. If you are not registered on the web site, you are required to fill in your name and address etc.; if you are and are logged in, it is done automatically. You then have a large free-text field for your detailed reasons for opposing (or supporting) the application.

Previous comments made by others can also be examined. This is where comments you make can be seen by others.

You should also ask for your comments to be emailed to you so you can keep a record and use it to recruit others to join your campaign if you wish.

You can also select the * Track option from the Planning >> Application Summary page so you can be kept advised about the progress of the application.

We do not pretend that any of this is easy or quick. But it does get easier and does not take so long ,as you gain experience. The Bristol Tree Forum will help you!

If you would like to volunteer to help with this important role, please contact us using our online contact form.

One thought on “Checking planning applications – how to save trees or ensure that doomed trees are replaced

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