Like most folk, I believe that more can be achieved in life by open & transparent negotiation – laying ones cards on the table for a reciprocal arrangement & courtesy. Unfortunately, like most things in life, there will be times when one side will try & gain the advantage at the detriment of the other party using this method. Nothing is more relevant to this fact in Planning issues than TREES on or near a site that you want to develop or extend.
I had an historic situation where a prime site ripe for an infill plot had a bank of protected trees on its rear boundary. In the middle of the garden was one sole Walnut tree of mature height that was not protected. Research at the Planning Offices revealed that it was only protected by a very obscure & old Planning Condition back in the sixties for the original estate that required all mature trees on the site to be retained (non were specifically identified).
The options of how to play this when entering into pre-application negotiations with the Planning Dept. were put to the client which entailed either taking a chance & removing the tree now to expose the plot for an obvious new dwelling but at the risk of having to incur some sort of costs for Planning rectification measures or leave the site as it is & start talking to the Planners. The client did not want to take the risk so we left the site unaltered.
Upon entering into sketch scheme designs & negotiations with a Case Planning Officer & their ‘new’ urban design team it soon became clear that the Planners were resistant to a property on this site mainly for siting issues (not the trees) but our approaches to the Councils Tree Officers were unusually non-responsive. After 4 weeks of messages & non-returned calls I was eventually told that the Walnut tree had now been issued with a Tree preservation order (TPO) without any form of discussion from them. Even half expecting this as the ‘worst case scenario’ it was still very shocking & upsetting to find that your trust of fair play in the system had been well & truly shat on. Also, that a perfectly good site had now received another layer of problems to overcome. It was also clear that ‘internal events’ had taken place between all sections of the Planning Dept. in order prevent development on this site due to the initial negative response from the Case Planning Officer.
I wouldn’t want to go so far as to indicate that ‘dark powers were at work’ but it is clear that in the close knit ‘chummy’ atmosphere of the Council Offices, Planners & other consultation specialists had conspired together to form a united front against development on this site even though we had tried to negotiate separately on the tree issue.
The conclusion to all this is clear – Don’t trust any part of the Planning system during pre-application negotiations when trees are involved. On this particular site we had now entered into an adversarial position not of our own making. We would have been no better of if we had simply removed the tree first & argued about the legality of this action afterwards after all it was not formally protected. You can understand why some arrogant developers do this – Honesty & openness simply doesn’t pay when dealing with some aspects of Planning.