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What is a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)?

Given that the world’s focus is increasingly on climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the care and preservation of trees and woodlands is also growing in importance. One way in which humanity can improve our GHG emission status is with trees that can store significant amounts of carbon. If forests all around the world continue to be lost due to human activity, then there is little hope of meeting our C02 emission targets, let alone mitigating biodiversity loss.

A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is imposed by a local planning authority for the protection and preservation of specific trees or woodlands “in the interest of amenity.” Under Regulation 13 of the Town and Country Planning Regulations 2012, a Tree Preservation Order prohibits the…

  • cutting down
  • topping
  • lopping
  • uprooting
  • wilful damage
  • wilful destruction

…of trees without the local planning authority’s written consent. If consent is given, it can be subject to conditions which have to be followed. In the Secretary of State’s view, cutting roots is also a prohibited activity and requires the authority’s consent.”

Trees of any variety are covered by a TPO, but things like bushes and shrubs are not.

Responsibilities for tree owners with a Tree Preservation Order

Owners of land that contains trees with a TPO have the legal responsibility, irrespective of who instigated the TPO. Essentially, this refers to the owner being responsible for damage caused by the tree and making sure that it is kept in good condition. This could involve paying for a tree surgeon to carry out any necessary repair work or trimming to make sure the tree is safe and stable.

TPO - Protected Trees

However, the owner cannot just go ahead and carry out any work without first gaining permission from the relevant local planning authority. This can be achieved by the owner submitting an application through the Planning Portal of the local authority. If a tree is causing immediate harm or damage or if you anticipate that it might (such as with a tree leaning over), then immediate work can be carried out, otherwise, at least 5 days’ notice must be given before work is carried out.

A local planning authority is not permitted, however, to require the owner subjected to a TPO to carry out maintenance work just because it is protected, although it can encourage and recommend good tree management, “particularly when determining applications for consent under a Tree Preservation Order.” This will help to maintain and enhance the amenity provided by protected trees. ” For trees to remain safe and healthy, it is advised that regular inspections and maintenance be carried out.

What are the exemptions to a TPO?

Planning permission will not need to be sought in certain circumstances, and the following exemptions apply:

  • If the tree is dead
  • If the tree is dying or diseased (which can be a hazard)
  • To remove an immediate risk of danger
  • To avoid or lessen the impact of a nuisance
  • To remove dead branches from a living tree
  • Where work is urgently necessary for national security purposes

Identifying a TPO when buying property

If you’ve been looking around at property and are planning on moving soon, you may have come across a house with a bit of land or a large garden that also has a few large trees on it. If so, you may want to learn if the trees, or at least one of them, has a TPO on it because it will mean a cost implication for regular inspections and maintenance. This can be done by your solicitor when doing a Local Authority Search, which will identify any TPOs (a Local Land Charge) attached to the property.

You will want a copy of any order so you can learn from it what specific trees are subject to it, and where exactly they are located. As a property owner, you will want to know what responsibilities you will have for the trees before deciding to commit to buying them. Furthermore, your solicitor should enquire with the present owner if they have experienced any issues with the trees or with the local planning authority, such as any difficulty obtaining permission to carry out work or being denied permission to cut them down.

In terms of property insurance, trees with TPO shouldn’t impact the cover you have, but it’s worth nothing that any large trees in close proximity to the house, or if they pose a hazard to the environment in some way, the insurance company may deem them a high risk, which could affect any insurance cover you have.

Trees with a TPO on a neighbouring property

When viewing property for a potential home or buy-to-let investment, take note of any large trees that are on neighbouring land.

Results of a local authority search for any TPOs will also yield results for any TPOs on neighbouring land. If your neighbours have trees that are protected, and have something like overhanging branches on your property, you will need their permission to carry out even basic maintenance like pruning their trees.

Breaching a TPO

For breaches of TPOs, the council can take legal action against the offender and can impose a fine of up to £20,000. A landowner that breaches a TPO will have a duty to replace the tree when:

  • Work is carried to the tree without giving the authorities the requisite five days’ notice
  • You destroy or cut down the tree
  • The council have given permission for work, but you must replace the tree as part of the conditions


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