The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a report asking Members to consider further information in respect of the Panels current scrutiny topic and to incorporate the information into the Panels Final Report, as appropriate.
Members were reminded that the Draft Final Report in relation to Maintenance of Highway Trees and Natural Woodland was considered at the Panels previous meeting, on 15 May 2012. During discussion, Members raised several queries relating to the development control/planning process and these were detailed within the submitted report.
Subsequently, E Vickers, Development Control Manager, and R Ward, Arborist, were invited to the meeting to provide further information in relation to the issues raised. Appendix 1 to the submitted report contained information provided by the Development Control Manager.
The Development Control Manager presented details in relation to planning law and guidance and advised that whilst there was general guidance on biodiversity contained within the National Planning Policy Framework (2012), it was not specific to trees.
Local Planning Policy was set out in the Local Development Framework (2008) and, whilst the following policies were relevant, they were not specific to trees in relation to planning legislation:-
DC1 - General Development (provided general statements on good principles for new development).
CS4 - Sustainability (generalised statements including protection of landscape character).
CS5 - Design (a statement requiring high standards of design).
CS20 - Green Infrastructures (statement requiring high quality in the natural environment).
The Supplementary Planning Document on design was currently in draft format. The document embraced the principles of One Planet Living and retention of landscaping wherever possible in new development, however, more prominence could be placed on trees in terms of incorporating trees into new development and protecting them as part of the development process.
The Town and Country Planning Act (1990) outlined the duties of the Local Planning Authority to provide trees and to protect them as part of the planning process. There were regulations in relation to Conservation Areas and Tree Preservation Orders and it was highlighted that there were currently more than 90 Tree Preservation Orders throughout Middlesbrough. There were presently seven existing conservation areas within the town and a further one being proposed.
The Development Control Manager explained the current process in relation to planning which sought to compromise between good development and the environment in order to achieve balance. It was confirmed that where trees existed on a proposed development site, a tree survey would be required as part of the planning application. The results of the survey would be passed to the Councils Arborist for his professional opinion and comment. Planning conditions attached to the planning permission required replanting if specimens failed to take on the site and also required measures to protect existing trees during the construction process. Photographic examples and plans of various developments across the town were provided, together with explanations in relation to any planning conditions attached in relation to trees.
In terms of utility companies, the Panel was advised that they were permitted to carry out most works without the need for planning permission, however, they were not permitted to removed trees in protected areas. The utility companies would give the Council notice of any works to be carried out and this was also passed on to the Councils Arborist to provide advice where necessary.
During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-
In response to a query regarding sanctions taken by the Council against the unauthorised removal of trees, the Panel was informed that the Council could prosecute with sufficient evidence. A penalty of a maximum fine up to £20,000 per tree could be enforced by the Courts.
It was queried what the actual definition of a tree was. The Councils Arborist responded that this was somewhat of a grey area, however, anything that could be dug up by hand and moved was generally not considered to be a tree.
Reference was made to potential problems and existing problems in relation to planting trees on new developments, whereby the matured tree was inappropriate for the site. For example, on housing developments the trees may be too large and block out light from residents homes. The Development Control Manager advised that conditions in relation to trees/planting were attached to permitted planning applications and a landscaping scheme would be required of the developer, including a full tree planting schedule. Advice would be taken from the Councils Arborist in relation to the appropriateness of species to be planted. Scientific advances now allowed for a more accurate prediction of shading cast from mature tree canopies, etc and these factors were taken into account.
The Chair thanked the officers for their attendance and the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the submitted information in relation to Maintenance of Highway Trees and Natural Woodland, be incorporated into the Panels Draft Final Report on the topic and circulated to Panel Members for final comment.
2. That an additional recommendation be included in the Draft Final Report to strengthen the position regarding trees in the Draft Supplementary Planning Document on Design, that was currently being prepared.