|Tree preservation orders are legal orders which make it an offence to cut down, uproot, prune, lop or damage a tree without first obtaining Council consent. Tree preservation orders are powerful legal tools that can have a massive impact on both trees, the land on which they grow and the people who own this land.
Tree preservation orders can be a tool for great good, ensuring high value amenity trees are protected from threats of destruction, for the benefit of the local community. Tree preservation orders also impose heavily on an individual’s liberty, to do as they see fit with their land; with failure to comply resulting in a potential criminal record and serious financial penalties.
Tree preservation orders, worryingly, also appear to be able to be misused and even abused by those with the power to make them…
Imagine a scenario: a planner within a local authority is contacted by a land owner for advice, on the potential to build on land that they are considering selling. The planner visits the site – notices there are lots of trees – and so places a group Tree Preservation Order (TPO) covering them all. With this single act, the planner has made an economically valuable development site practically worthless. Fair enough, you may say, perhaps this was the right thing to do? But what then, if the same planner, having now made the site economically worthless, goes on to purchase it for a nominal sum – a few pounds – and then, over the following few years, applies for permission to have the very same protected trees cut down so as to build new housing on the site.
Such a scenario may sound far fetched, but a remarkably similar chain of events occurred a few years ago; details of which only came to light after a council employee was shown to have been unfairly dismissed at a tribunal for “whistle-blowing” about the affair. Leicester City Council worker Paul Champion told his bosses that fellow planning officer Richard Riley was trying to build property on land he bought after he had used his position to make the site “commercially worthless”.
Mr Champion said a landowner had contacted the council to see whether their land, nearly half an acre, was suitable for development. Mr Riley visited the site and imposed tree preservation orders, meaning 51 trees could not be cut down, thus preventing development. Mr Riley then bought the land, which Mr Champion claimed was for the price of £50. After this, Mr Riley began to fell a number of trees that were covered by TPOs. He claimed that some of the trees were exempt from protection because they were dead, dying or dangerous. In respect of others he gained consent to fell after making formal applications to the council. Following this Mr Riley submitted an application to build a three-storey house on the land.
Mr Champion reported his concerns about Mr Riley’s conduct and soon after found himself out of a job. The tribunal ruled Mr Champion was unfairly dismissed, adding: “We are satisfied