As part of the process of residential conveyancing, a property solicitor will examine local authority orders or planning applications which might affect the home in question and among these are tree preservation orders (TPO).
A request for a TPO can be made to the planning authority by anyone but does not have to be approved, however, once one is agreed, the council is obliged to enforce it. Any tree is eligible but there is no blanket protection from felling or surgery for groups of trees and hedges do not come within the legislation.
Some tree preservation orders are quite old, dating from the first laws made in 1949, and the property owner might not be aware of their existence until the house is about to be sold and searches reveal their existence.
Of course, many people like trees and are happy for them to be preserved but they can be an obstacle to building work if, say, an extension to a new home is planned and a tree is in the way.
This is unlikely to be the case in an urban back garden although if a tree is prominent enough to be visible or accessible from a public place, such as a footpath, playing field or cemetery, it may be covered by an order.
It is not impossible to remove or cut back trees on which a TPO exists but written permission must be made to the local planning authority for any kind of work. Unauthorised chopping down or even trimming may result in prosecution of the tree’s owner.
Replacement trees may be ordered
Permission is usually granted but, if felling is involved, replacements of the same species and in as near the same location as possible may be ordered.
Should the council decide to withhold consent, the affected owner could apply for compensation if he could prove the refusal had unfairly cost him money or seriously damaged his home, although any potential loss of development value could not be included.
Maintaining and felling mature trees, especially in an urban area, is a job for a specialist tree surgeon and a prospective home buyer with a large number of trees on a plot should be aware of the potential cost and inconvenience of looking after them.
Tree preservation orders are available as public documents for anyone interested to view them at a council office and, usually, a tree officer will be employed to give advice to councillors and residents on all aspects of protecting trees, including exemptions such as work on fruit trees.
Reputable tree surgeons in the area are also likely to have a large amount of local knowledge which can help a home buyer who has problem trees.
An experienced property lawyer will be able to advise on legal issues arising from TPOs, such as felling and compensation. His services may also be called upon with regard to natural boundaries with neighbours.
Many legal disputes have arisen about planted boundary definitions, overhanging branches and obstructions caused by overgrown trees, some of which have ended in costly court cases. Before buying, a purchaser should be aware of any possible difficulties with neighbours to nip any problems in the bud.
Advice from Healys solicitors of London and Brighton
If you are thinking of buying a property or land with which there may be an issue concerning a tree preservation order which you believe may affect the value or use of the home, whether in a city such as London or Brighton or in the countryside, Healys team of experienced residential conveyancing solicitors is ready to help.
With its links to other skilled professionals across its general legal practice, Healys can provide advice and representation on all aspects of the law regarding land and property.
For more information and advice on costs of Healys’ conveyancing services you can request a call-back via the website, or email partner Kiri Kkoshi – telephone 020 7822 4148.