TPO or Tree Preservation Order – what is it?
A TPO or Tree Preservation Order, to give it the full name, is an order to protect one or more trees. Okay, you had probably figured that bit out! Essentially the order prohibits the cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilful damage or 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. However bushes, shrubs and hedges are not normally protected by TPOs. See our page on trees with regard to trees not protected by a TPO.
Not all trees are protected, and, despite ‘urban myths’ to the contrary, no particular species or size of tree is protected. Any tree is eligible for protection, regardless of age, species or size. But no trees are automatically protected. There are three normal ways in which a tree or woodland might have some been given some sort of legal protection:
- A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) has been made at some time to cover that tree;
- A planning condition has been made at some time to cover that tree;
- The tree is within a conservation area (in fact, this one is not strictly protection but merely requires that the owner gives notice to the council of their intention to do works).
Always check to see if your land or property has a TPO on it or on a neighbouring site before starting any works. Contact your local authority who can assist. Many have registers available online.
There are four types of TPO, although any one Order can contain any number of items which can be of one or more types. The types are as follows:
- Individual: can be applied to an individual tree.
- Group: can be applied to a group of individual trees which, together, make up a feature of amenity value but which separately might not.
- Area: a type of TPO not normally made now but still common. It covers all trees in a defined area at the time the order was made.
- Woodland: covers all trees within a woodland area regardless of how old they are.
Applying to work on a TPO-protected tree
Where work needs to be carried out on a tree with a TPO, you need to consider the following:
- Permission to carry out work on a TPO tree needs to be applied for around eight weeks in advance to the Local Planning Authority.
- This includes all work, even routine pruning of a fruit tree.
- Notice of works on a tree in a Conservation Area must be given six weeks in advance. This legal requirement applies to all trees with a stem diameter of at least 75mm, measured at 1.5m above the ground.
- Where the tree is dead, dying, or a health and safety risk and pruning is considered urgent, then permission must be sought a minimum of five days in advance.
- Assessment by a tree surgeon may aid the application.
There is no need to apply for a TPO to be removed if you would like to remove it perhaps for development. Simply apply for permission to cut back or remove the tree. Removal of TPOs is extremely rare and not worth doing.
Protecting a tree
If you wish to protect a tree in your area, write to the Planning Authority stating your reasons, and include a map to aid identification. An immediate, temporary (six month) TPO can be put in place by the Local Planning Authority. The Authority would then inform neighbours and interested parties. Any objections must be received within 28 days. After six months, the temporary TPO could be confirmed and made permanent, or allowed to lapse. Local residents have the chance to raise objections in that time.
TPOs and Planning
It’s worth knowing that TPOs are part of the law of planning. If planning permission is granted for a development, and the work will involve felling or working on protected trees, then the planning permission overrides the TPO. This is because the TPO will have been considered by the planning authority at the time the permission was granted. So if you’re hoping to get a TPO made to prevent works which have got planning consent, you’re probably not going to succeed, and even if you did it wouldn’t make any difference.
Can I be punished?
Courts have powers to fine anyone contravening the tree regulations laid down in part 8 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This includes penalties for cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilfully destroying or damaging protected trees. This applies to both the person doing the work and the land owner.
If you deliberately destroy a protected tree, or damage it in a manner likely to destroy it, you could be fined up to £20,000 if convicted in the magistrates’ court. In determining the amount of the fine, the court will take account of any financial benefit arising from the offence. For other offences including working on the tree without permission you could be fined up to £2,500. In serious cases a person may be committed for trial in the Crown Court and, if convicted, is liable to an unlimited fine.
There is also a duty to replace any protected tree that has been removed illegally, the new tree being automatically protected by the original order. Should the replacement tree die a further replacement would then be required … and so on …
Page Updated: 20th November 2020
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