HL Deb 22 July 1994 vol 557 cc55-6WA
Viscount Davidson

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish their plans for a review of the law regarding tree preservation orders.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

The Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office issued a consultation paper,Review of Tree Preservation Policies and Legislation, in December 1990, setting out our proposals for reforming the law relating to tree preservation orders in England and Wales. Three hundred and twelve responses were received from a broad range of interests, including local authorities, environment and amenity groups, farmers and landowners, arboriculturists, utility companies, and members of the public. Copies have been placed in the Department of the Environment's library.

The continued use of the tree preservation order as a means of protecting trees, groups of trees and woodlands in the interests of amenity was supported by most respondents. The Government agree that the system has proved its worth over the years, and has decided that local authorities' present powers to make tree preservation orders in respect of trees and woodlands would be retained. We have considered calls from some respondents who consider that tree preservation orders should provide not only for the protection of trees, but also for their management. We recognise the importance of encouraging the proper management of trees, particularly in woodlands, but do not consider that the present system precludes local authorities from promoting the continued management of protected trees in their areas. We therefore do not think that it is necessary to impose new requirements either on tree owners or local authorities.

Our conclusions, which we are laying before the House today, set out three broad aims.

Our first aim is to streamline the administration of the system and bring flexibility to the way it is operated. The present form of tree preservation order, which is long and complex, would be replace by a shorter, simpler document. The present exemption to deal with protected trees which cause a nuisance would be clarified; and codes of practice would be introduced to promote the sensitive management of trees by statutory undertakers and utility companies in consultation with local authorities. Local authorities would be given discretion in determining the location of trees which are planted to replace protected trees; and the present requirement to replace protected trees which have been removed in woodlands would be simplified.

Our second aim is to ensure that the system continues to recognise the interests of the tree owner. Rights to compensation for loss or damage incurred as a result of local authorities' decisions on applications to carry out works to protected trees would be clarified. A local authority's ability to make tree preservation orders over areas of trees other than in woodlands would be limited, and provision would be made for existing "area orders" to lapse after a suitable transitional period. Furthermore, in the light of responses to the consultation paper, we have decided against bringing forward proposals to repeal the tree owner's right to object to the making of a tree preservation order, and against giving local authorities new powers to require the tree owner to carry out, and pay for, remedial works to protected trees.

Our third aim is to ensure that local authorities have adequate powers to bring effective action against abusers of the system. The present offence of "wilful" destruction or damage of protected trees would be replaced by an offence based on recklessness. We would clarify that a person who "causes or permits" the unauthorised destruction or damage of protected trees in also guilty of the offence. The present exemption which allows the cutting down of dying trees which are the subject of tree preservation orders would be repealed, and although the exemption to carry out work on protected trees which have become dangerous would be retained, this would be subject to a new requirement to show that the work was limited to the minimum measures necessary. A new offence of failing to comply with a tree replacement notice would also be created. However, new powers would not be introduced enabling local authorities to regulate the planting and maintenance of replacement trees.

We believe that these measures would improve the tree preservation order system in a way that would meet the public's desire for effective measures to protect key trees and woodlands in the interests of amenity, without placing unnecessary restrictions on the rights of the citizen.

A paper setting out each of our conclusions in more detail, and a list of all those who responded to the consultation paper, have been placed in the Library of the House. The current pressures on the parliamentary timetable mean that there is no prospect in the immediate future of introducing the necessary legislation to enact these changes. In the interim, therefore, the current system will be retained.

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