Local planning authorities have the power to make tree preservation orders (TPO) where they consider it expedient in the interests of amenity to do so. An order can cover an individual tree, groups of trees or woodlands. There is a right to make representations to a TPO when it is first proposed by the local planning authority, but once a TPO is confirmed then its validity cannot be challenged except by making an application to the High Court within six weeks of the confirmation date.
Once a TPO is in place, it is an offence to cut down, uproot, top, lop or willfully damage or destroy a protected tree except in certain limited circumstances; for example where the tree is dead, dying or dangerous or where the authority have given consent for the works. Contravention of a tree preservation order can lead to prosecution and in the case of a removal of the tree a fine of up to £20,000 in the Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court.
Trees in Conservation Areas are also subject to similar protection, although the protection can be disapplied by notifying the local planning authority of an intention to carry out works to the tree in question. Where such notification is given the authority can consent to the works, make a tree preservation order or do nothing in which case after a period of six weeks from receipt of the notification the protection afforded to the tree lapses for a period of two years.