Articles

Where I become subject to a Tree Preservation Order

In Governmental stupidity, Plants, Politics, Trees on Sunday 30th August, 2009 by Guy

Returning from a hard day at work surfing the net and moving some Greek letters around on various bits of paper according to a highly esoteric scheme called “mathematics”, I was torn between excitement and forboding to find in my mailbox a healthily-filled A4-sized envelope which was sent “Recorded Signed For“, meaning that the sender paid for the knowledge that their message was delivered. Flicking the package around to look for the sender’s address — because one really can’t open mysterious post before one has comprehensively examined the packaging for clues as to its content — I learnt that the responsible party was the “Document Management Centre” at Warwick District Council.

Gulp.

Living in a benign but nonetheless strict authoritarian country such as the UK, one lives in constant fear that said authorities will find that one has broken some rule, not followed some bureaucratic procedure according to the bureaucracy’s whims, with the effect that one’s life becomes a little more uncomfortable as the full force of the Rule Of Law intrudes into it and demands satisfaction. So being sent a letter from a cryptically-named office of the local council could only be a bad thing. They don’t sound like the sort of place that gives out medals or tea with biscuits.

Excitement now properly squashed by foreboding, I peeled the envelope flap away, and slowly pulled out the sheaf within. It was a very official letter.

It was addressed to the “Owner/Occupier”. Phew! So it wasn’t something they could blame on me — or at least, not yet.

It was a… (and here I use Title Case where the council, in its transfinite wisdom, uses only capitals, probably with the successful intent to project authority)

Tree Preservation Order Notification
Town and Country Planning Act 1990
Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999

It was Tree Preservation Order 406, in fact, the other 405 having passed my blissfully by.

The next few paragraphs were extremely formal councilese concerning the council, the law, and trees. I was now utterly confused as to what this had to do with me. I had nothing against trees! I had not had an intimate encounter with a tree for many moons! Why bother me with Tree Orders of any kind, let alone Preservation ones?! Could it have been sent by mistake? This was a very far from implausible outcome.

Halfway down the page came the statement, which was the only non pro forma part of the letter judging by its distinct font:

The wellingtonia is located in a prominent road side location making a significant contribution to the character and amenity of the surrounding area

Well, that was very interesting information, but I still had no idea what it had to do with me. A careful re-reading of the letter revealed in the second paragraphs that it was because

The council is required by law to serve notice on landowners and occupiers of land on which the tree(s) is/are situated [[nice way to adjust the template to specific circumstances, my dear civil servants!]] and also owners and occupiers of adjoining land.

Now I understood that I live close to this tree… But I couldn’t think of what tree nearby was so important and so under threat that all this effort and expense was needed to save it from me and for me. Perhaps there was a picture of the tree that would simultaneously identify it to me and exemplify its unique vulnerable specialness?

So I turned to the other contents of the envelope. They were:

  • A [back to Normal Case for this:] “Copy of Regulation 4 of the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1990”, which was sent because it relates to “objections and representations” concerning new Tree Protection Orders. Unfortunately, the Copy didn’t state what a reasonable objection could be and what response could be expected beyond “Thanks, we’re going to recycle this now”.
  • An FAQ sheet full of questions that I imagine are not particularly frequently asked, such as “How can I find out if a tree has a TPO?”.
  • The actual TREE PRESERVATION ORDER! How exciting.

Except that the first few pages of the Order contained only lots of legalese and nothing about what the order was referring to, except Clause 4 which made sure nothing naughty would happen by proudly stating,

Without prejudice to subsections (6) and (7) of Section 198 (power to make tree
preservation orders) or Sub-Section (3) of Section 200 (tree preservation orders:
Forestry Commissioners), and subject to Article 5, no person shall:

(a) cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy; or

(b) cause or permit the cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilful damageor wilful
destruction of,

any tree specified in Schedule 1 to this Order or comprised in a group of trees or in a
woodland so specified, except with the consent of the Authority and where such consent
is given subject to conditions in accordance with those conditions.

I wouldn’t know how to lop even if I wanted to. Anyway, off to Schedule 1 to see which trees are being protected from such savagery as being topped and lopped:

[a few pages later, after far more detail about any possible circumstances involving trees and their protection than you’d even want to be involved with has been gone through….]

Schedule 1

Specification of Trees

Trees specified individually
(encircled in black on the map)
Reference on Map : Description : Situation
T1 : Wellingtonia : T1 is situated in the north east part of blah blah blah

Then followed other potential categories (“Trees specified by reference to an area”; “Groups of trees”; “Woodlands”) that today would not be necessary in order to save local treekind.

OK, so there must be a map! Turn over the page…

Schedule 2

Part I

Provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 applied with adaptations or modifications

Provision of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 : Adaptation of Modification

Section 69 (registers) : (a) In subsection (1) –
: (i) omit –
: “, [sic!!!] in such manner as may be described by a development order,”,
: “such” in the second place where it appears, and
: “as may be so prescribed”; and

and… so on for 3.5 pages more, going through modifications to Section 70 (determination of applications: general considerations), Section 75 (effect of planning permission) and so on to Section 79 (determination of appeals). All utter gobbledegook. Not to worry though! Part II of Schedule 2 applies all the omissions, adaptations, cut-and-pastes, censorings, doodlings and other nefarious symbol manipulations that Part I barked at us to get on with. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t make much sense in and of itself, let alone why it’s even there. I’m guessing it’s to do with some special provisions that they’re entitled to claim, but who knows?

At last we get to a shockingly detailed outline map of the surrounding area. It could have been drawn up by God’s architect. There is a very exact outline of every property with the number or name of each property superimposed, including of course mine. And there, right in the middle of the frame, is a small thick-lined circle labelled “T1”. [The title of the map is “Tree Preservation Order No 390”, but who’s counting? After all the pedantry of the law-quoting, I was relieved to see the human touch return].

But still no picture of the tree. And there wasn’t going to be one… The map was all the description we going to be given.

Who asked the tree to be protected? Why now? Why did all this bumf have to be sent for one tree and not just a letter? Why couldn’t it be sent as regular post instead of the pricier recorded post? How many other bored and confused residents had this treatise sent to them, at their own expense of course?

And above all: didn’t it strike anyone involved in this process as a touch ironic than in order to save this one tree — a tree that I still couldn’t identify from memory, despite sleeping every night only 60 metres away (according to the map, which was drawn at scale 1:1250) — several other trees had to be sacrificed first to be made into the bumf? I will definitely relish the stupidity and wastefulness (and soul-destroying technocraticism) that allowed this to happen as I finally put the Tree Preservation Order into the bin.

Addendum: There’s been some recent changes to the regulations, viz. The Town and Country Planning (Trees) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008, which there was no mention of in my hefty epistle. Perhaps I should inform the council of this?

Addendumdum: It seems the council is well aware, because there’s a link to these latest regulations on the council dedicated TPO page, http://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/TPO. Of particular delight there is their linked article on the (supposed) benefits of trees, which has about 12 academic articles supporting its many claims. If only all public policy was so well-researched! But trees have to take priority over crime and the education of children, of course.

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