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Protected trees


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Under England’s planning system, the Local Planning Authority has a statutory duty to protect trees of public amenity value.

Before carrying out work on any tree you will need to check if it is protected. Trees of any age, size or species can be protected, including non-native trees, but not shrubs or hedges.

Trees may be protected:

  • by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)
  • by virtue of growing within a conservation area
  • through planning conditions related to ongoing or relatively new development
  • because they form an ‘important’ hedgerow

It is an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy any trees protected by a TPO or within a conservation area without permission.

If you cut down a protected tree without permission, you could be fined up to £20,000 in the Magistrates’ Court.

If you carry out unauthorised work but do not destroy the tree, you could be fined up to £2,500 in the Magistrates’ Court.

If your case is referred to the Crown Court, you could receive an unlimited fine.

You can view TPOs and conservation areas using our online map.

View now

If you are in any doubt about whether a tree is protected, you should contact planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk, giving the species and location of the tree and a plan of the area if possible.

Making TPOs

TPOs are made for trees of significant landscape, historic and/or ecological value, or which otherwise contribute to public amenity, and may cover individual trees, groups of trees, areas or woodland.

In addition to TPOs covering individual trees:

  • Group TPOs specify the number and species of protected trees within a given area
  • Area TPOs protect all trees growing within a specified area when the TPO was made
  • Woodland TPOs protect all trees within a woodland, regardless of age or species

The purpose of a TPO is not to impede tree management or insist on tree retention in all circumstances, but rather to prevent undue removal or poor management of valuable trees, or to ensure replacement of a valuable tree which must be removed. A TPO does not transfer management responsibility onto the council, and we will not pay for works to a protected tree other than those under our ownership.

Copies of TPOs can be obtained by writing to planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk with the location of the tree and TPO number (if known).

If you would like a tree considered for protection under a new TPO, please write to planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk with the species and location of the tree, details of the owner (if known) and any known threat to the tree.

Further information on TPOs is available on the GOV.UK website.

Works to trees with TPOs

Anyone wishing to carry out any works to a TPO tree must apply for formal consent, with some exceptions.

We strongly advise that you discuss your proposals with any neighbours and others who may be affected, especially where the works involve trees beyond your boundary. The council's decision does not override the need to obtain the landowner’s consent for access to their land.

The Planning Portal allows you to submit an online application or download paper forms with guidance notes. Paper forms should be submitted to planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk or by post to:

Planning Support
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Mount Pleasant Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells
TN1 1RS

There is no cost for submitting an application.

Once we have validated your application, the council has eight weeks to consider it.

The Tree Officer may visit site to inspect and take photographs of the tree. Due to resource constraints, we are usually unable to advise on the date or time of the visit, though the officer may contact you for site access beforehand if necessary.

In determining the application, the council may:

  • grant consent (with or without conditions)
  • grant consent for lesser works (with or without conditions)
  • refuse consent
  • issue a split decision (with some works granted consent and some refused)

Decisions are valid for two years.

You have rights of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against refusals, conditions attached to consent and on grounds of non-determination if a decision has not been issued within eight weeks of the application’s validation. Appeals must be lodged within 28 days of issuance of the decision, or from the date the decision was due. Instructions on how to appeal are included with your decision notice. For appeals on grounds of non-determination, the council is unable to issue a decision while the appeal is in progress and you are not permitted to carry out the proposed works.

Please note: there is no statutory requirement for the council to inform neighbours or other members of the public of applications/notifications for works to protected trees. However, the council’s policy is to always publicise TPO applications through site notices, allowing a 3-week consultation period.

You can also register with TWBC to be notified of all TPO applications or conservation area notifications nearby.

General guidance on making TPO applications is available on the GOV.UK website.

Works to trees in conservation areas

Anyone wishing to carry out works to a tree in a conservation area which is not already protected by a TPO must first give six weeks’ written notice to the council.

There are some exceptions, including all trees which have a stem diameter of less than 75mm when measured at 1.5 meters above ground level (or a diameter of 100mm, where the works are to improve the growth of other trees).

The Planning Portal allows you to submit an online application or download paper forms with guidance notes. Paper forms should be submitted to planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk or by post to:

Planning Support
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Mount Pleasant Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells
TN1 1RS

There is no cost for submitting a notification.

The council may:

  • raise no objection
  • make a TPO for the subject tree (usually following discussions with the notifier)
  • not issue a formal response (in which case the works may proceed once six weeks have elapsed from the date on which the notification was validated)

Please note, there is no statutory requirement for the council to inform neighbours or other members of the public of applications/notifications for works to protected trees. Although the council’s policy is to always publicise TPO applications, this would be impractical for conservation area notifications. You can register with TWBC to be notified of all TPO applications or conservation area notifications nearby.

General guidance on conservation area notifications is available on the GOV.UK website.

Works to trees on development sites

Where development is ongoing or has taken place, trees are sometimes protected through planning conditions.

To find out if trees are protected by conditions, you will need search the planning history of an address.

Planning application search

If your tree is covered by a planning condition, you may need to inform us if you intend to carry out works to it.  The planning condition will make this clear.

If you are concerned that works taking place on a development site are not in accordance with approved tree protection measures, you can report a planning breach.

Please note: permitted development rights do not allow for the pruning or removal of protected trees without an application for formal consent.

It is important that you consider the possible impacts of development, including permitted development, and get advice from a tree consultant if there are protected trees on or adjacent to the site.

Tree roots may extend far beyond the crown spread of a tree, and construction activity above a tree’s root system, including raised soil levels and storage of materials, may impair the growth and function of the tree’s roots and threaten the health of the whole tree. This is particularly the case where the tree is mature.

Works to hedgerows

If rural hedgerows meet certain criteria, they are considered ‘important’ and are protected. Removal of part or all of an important hedgerow requires a Hedgerow Removal Notice.

If you would like to submit a Hedgerow Removal Notice, please write to planning@tunbridgewells.gov.uk for further instructions.

The council may:

  • raise no objection
  • issue a Hedgerow Retention Notice
  • issue a split decision (requiring only part of the hedgerow be retained)
  • not issue a formal response (in which case the works may proceed once six weeks have elapsed from the date on which the notification was validated

Guidance on hedgerow management and protection is available on the GOV.UK website.

Unauthorised works to protected trees

If you see works being carried out to a protected tree, you can consult our register of applications and decisions to find out whether those works were approved.

If it appears that the works are unauthorised, please write to planning@tunbridgewell.gov.uk with details of the tree, its location, the works (including the time and date they were observed) and any other information which may be relevant. Photographs would be useful.