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To fell, or not to fell – that is the question

Trees are a vital contributor to functioning ecosystems and healthy, attractive places. As such they are afforded protections in law. Victoria Bankes-Price outlines when you can - and can't - cut down trees as part of a new developments

The British public is passionate about trees. Their felling, legal or not, can be highly emotive. Local planning authorities have a statutory duty to consider the protection and planting of trees when granting planning permission. But confusion can occur when trying to determine whether a planning application requires a felling licence or not.

Felling trees without a licence, where one would have been required, is an offence. It’s vital for planners to work closely with the regulator: in England it is the Forestry Commission.

The Forestry Act 1967 (as amended) sets out the exceptions when a felling licence is not required, relating to: location, type of tree work, volume and diameter of the tree, legal and statutory undertakings and other permissions already in place.

If you have any doubts and believe a licence may be needed when preparing or assessing an application, encourage the landowner to apply. Most notably for planners, a licence is not required for felling required to carry out development authorised by planning permission. That is, those trees which would directly impede a development or are specifically mentioned in a planning approval.

But you cannot assume that because a tree falls within the ‘red line’ it is covered by the consent. For example, trees outside the footprint of development, or not mentioned in the approval, may require a licence. And outline permission alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that the felling is immediately required for the purposes of development, so a felling licence will be required.

“You cannot assume that because a tree falls within the ‘red line’ it is covered by the planning permission”

Some illegal felling occurs because of misunderstanding or misapplication of the rules. Some people, however, cut down trees in open disregard for the law. So it’s worth considering potential illegal felling when assessing applications. Are there signs of tree removal on site? Do aerial images tally with what you see on the ground?  

The guidance on licensing of tree felling sets out the government’s general policy against felling trees without restocking. So if a site has been cleared legally, the licence will usually be conditional upon the location being restocked. Likewise, in illegal felling cases, a restocking notice is likely to be served. Local planning authorities may consider restocking notices as material planning considerations.

If you believe felling has taken place before submission of a planning application, contact the local Forestry Commission Woodland Officer. We also advise planning authorities to add a note to their tree preservation order (TPO) webpage advising that with or without a TPO, a felling licence may still be required. Read the rules at bit.ly/planner1019-trees

Victoria Bankes-Price is a planning adviser with the Forestry Commission

Photo | iStock


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