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How many times, after all the effort and collaboration that has been put into detailing the management and protection of trees on a development site, has the implementation been jeopardised by a breakdown of communication?  The route through planning has been understood by all the relevant parties, with the landowner or developer instructing the necessary tree surveys.  The design team has developed a scheme around the tree constraints, and the local authority planning team is satisfied that the proposal will work and complies with local and national planning policy.  In most cases, a planning condition secures the need for retained trees to be protected and requires a detailed methodology to be agreed as to how this will take place.  However, once works start on site, the volume and variety of tasks that need to be completed means that too often, trees are overlooked.

In my experience, the specification to assist in the discharge of a tree related planning condition is prepared by an arboriculturist.  This method statement not only provides the detail of how the trees will be protected, but also gives the necessary information as to the requirement for supervision throughout the construction process.  However, there are two distinct approaches that appear to be used in the preparation of this document.  The first approach provides a highly technical report that is written for the planning team as a tool to assist in the discharge of the relevant planning condition.  The second approach is a working document that is written for the site manager and construction team.  In my view, the second option is preferable as it gives more clarity as to what has to be done at ground level.

Project managers or site foremen are under considerable pressure and have a very large volume and variety of documents to read, understand and implement.  All too often, the methodology for tree protection is a document that ends up in the filing cabinet, read quickly at the start of the project to see where protective fencing needs to be installed and then set aside.  I am sure that all those involved in the management of trees on developments will be able to recall situations where they have arrived on site expecting to see one thing but find a very different scenario.  In such cases, the response can often be that the responsible person was not aware of what was required.   Regardless of the reason, failure to adhere to the details of the method statement can be a breach of planning conditions.  This can lead to a breakdown of trust with the local planning authority, can cause delays to the project programme, can lead to an increase in costs and, at worst, could lead to enforcement action.

To help avoid this situation, we have developed a very simple documented system to ensure that all parties who need to know about tree protection are fully informed.  A Statement of Undertaking confirms that the site foreman has not only been given a copy of the method statement, but that it has been read and understood, and confirms that the requirements will be complied with.  This is supported by a very simple, single page Toolbox Talk briefing note that every member of the construction team (direct or sub-contract) can be given when they start work on site.

The system is not perfect, but it helps plug a gap.  Developers can be reassured that the risk of breaching planning conditions is reduced.  Local authority officers can be reassured that the measures required for tree protection have been read and understood.  Supervision is still a vital tool to ensure that what is required through planning conditions are being adhered to, and to ensure that the site team are supported in a pragmatic and timely manner.  However more of that another time.

 

If you would like to discuss this article further with the author, Nick Bolton, then please contact him on 01608 648 657 / nick.bolton@lgluk.com

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