Local authorities have powers under the Town and Country Planning Act to protect trees and woodlands in the interest of amenity by making Tree Preservation Orders.
With certain exemptions it is not permissible to lop, top, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy a tree covered by a TPO. Planning permission must be sought by the tree owner and permission granted by the planning authority before any works may begin. There are fines of up to £20,000 and more for infringement of this legislation.
Trees that are potentially dangerous or are causing an actionable nuisance may be exempt from the legislation. Trees that do not have an amenity value may also be unworthy of statutory protection.
Local Planning Authorities require justification for tree works before considering the granting of consent. Refusal of consent for tree works or tree removal can be appealed against. Details of Appeal procedures should be included with any refusal of consent.
Before authorising tree works, you should contact your Local Planning Authority to ascertain if the trees are the subjects of any Tree Preservation Order or if they are within a Conservation Area, as if either applies, then statutory permission is required before any works can take place. The permission of any neighbouring tree owner must be granted prior to works being undertaken on their trees, apart from those involving overhanging branches as described below.
We can assist with applications, objections, appeals and all other issues relating to tree law.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
Regarding tree works concerning boundary or neighbouring trees, there are clear laws about neighbour's and tree owners rights and responsibilities.
Briefly the relevant references are as follows;
"If branches grow over the property line, the owner of the adjoining property may cut them back to the boundary line" (Lonsdale v Nelson, 1823)
"The adjoining owner may not enter the property on which the tree is growing without first giving notice to the tree owner" (Lemmon v Webb, 1894)
"Branches that are removed are the property of the owner of the tree and should be offered back unconverted." (Mills v Brooker, 1919)
Also, it would normally be considered that any damage caused as a direct or indirect result of any pruning would be the responsibility of the tree pruner rather than the tree owner, in such circumstances. It should also be noted that any damage caused to your own property by neighbouring trees would be the responsibility of the tree owner, particularly if they had already been put on notice that their trees are potentially hazardous or a nuisance. (See: Rylands v Fletcher, 1868; Smith v Giddy, 1904 and Leakey v National Trust, 1978.)
If works to neighbouring trees are recommended, the permission of the tree owner is required before any works are started. The only exception is if growth overhanging your boundary only is to be pruned, but it would be considered neighbourly to inform the tree owner and the arisings should still be offered back.
Similarly, you should not instruct contractors to undertake work on neighbouring trees without permission or to access neighbouring land for any reason without the consent of the neighbour. You could be deemed liable for any damage caused as a result of any trespass and responsible for the replacement value of any trees or shrubs that have been pruned or removed without permission.
The neighbour could be held responsible for any damage that results from the action of their trees. If the neighbour is requested to undertake pruning or tree removal in order to abate a nuisance or abate a hazard and fails to do so, there may be little defence against a future claim. You should always inform your insurers or legal advisers of any dispute and forward copies of any correspondence to them.