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Bristol's fixed number tree replacement policy

Subject: Bristol's fixed number tree replacement policy
From: Ben Rose
Date: Feb 14 2012 16:06:30
Given that there has been considerable discussion on the subject of 
compensation for the loss of trees during development in the past year or two 
I thought that I'd introduce the policy at Bristol City Council. 
 
Planning consent often rides on a decision based on the benefits of a 
proposed scheme. Often there are several benefits of a scheme that outweigh 
the potential impact on tree cover in the local area. Where a council doesn’t 
have a strong policy regarding new planting and compensation the issue of 
tree replacement is often poorly addressed or completely ignored. This could 
lead to a gradual erosion of tree canopy cover from urban areas. During the 
past five years at Bristol City Council there have been several developments 
where there has been difficulty in reaching an agreement on a suitable sum 
for compensation for tree loss and found that the systems of tree valuation 
currently available are difficult to use in these situations. These 
experiences led the council to develop a bespoke system for compensation for 
the loss of trees from development sites. It’s taken several years to develop 
this system and it has now been accepted as planning policy by
 the council. The full policy can be downloaded here: 
http://tinyurl.com/75c55fb.
The system works in tandem with BS5837 guidance and so trees that are of 
value are retained and protected during development works. It’s a system that 
has been devised to ensure that trees are adequately considered in the 
planning process rather than a convenient option for developers to pay money 
to get rid of trees. Proper use of the system should ensure that trees are 
considered on all developments. It should encourage developers to plant 
suitable numbers of replacement trees on site and in appropriate locations 
but where this is not possible it provides a mechanism where replacement 
trees can be planted in a near-by location. In this way the green 
infrastructure of the city can be maintained hand in hand with urban 
development.
 
This fixed number replacement system is a non-expert system designed 
specifically for reaching an acceptable degree of compensation for the loss 
of trees as a result of new development. The numbers of replacement trees 
that it requires developers to plant are generated from a table based on the 
principle of more value given to larger trees. When setting our criteria we 
had and aim to develop a system that would replace canopy cover of the tree 
that is lost within 5-10 years whilst generating a level of compensation that 
is fair and realistic outcome for tree replacements in a planning context. 
The final system requires a maximum of 8 trees to replace any tree lost as a 
result of development. It’s not possible to scientifically assert that up to 
eight trees is the right number of trees butwe consider that the system that 
we have developed is fair and workable in the context of tree compensation on 
development sites.
 
The financial sum generated by the system is derived from the cost of Bristol 
City Council planting and maintaining young trees. The developer is welcome 
to plant the required number of trees if they think that they can do it 
cheaper (in reality this would be them opening up a tree pit and planting the 
tree to the spec and then the council taking the 15-year maintenance money).  
It does not have to be seen as a no-option tax because the developer is 
primarily responsible for compensating for the loss.
 
The advantages of this fixed number replacement system include the following:
1.      It encourages trees to be protected on development sites.
2.      It ensures that trees lost as a result of development are adequately 
replaced on site or near the development site in all situations.
3.      Every development that impacts trees is likely to produce the 
information required to reach a value for compensation as a matter of routine 
(a measurement of the trunk diameter for the trees affected). 
4.      It’s quick and doesn’t require the costs of employing experts.
5.      No specific training is necessary to use this system beyond the 
ability to identify if a tree has less than 10 years useful life expectancy. 
6.      It’s a system that is understood by most arboriculturists, 
developers, and planning officers which is a great strength in the context of 
planning application negotiations.
7.      It conforms to the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations (2010) 
and developers can clearly understand how many trees will be planted for the 
money that they pay.
 
The methodology used to calculate the number of new trees to be planted is 
limited because of its simplicity. An obvious drawback is that the approach 
doesn’t consider the amenity value of the original tree, i.e. its size and 
location. There’s also a risk of pre-emptive felling before a planning 
application but this risk should be quite small because asignificant 
proportion of the city is protected by conservation area designations (30%). 
If trees were felled it would be possible for stumps to be measured and these 
measurements used to work out how many new trees need to be planted. I also 
expect that all arboriculturists with integrity would advise their clients to 
follow the policy.
 
The Bristol Tree Forum has been a major driving force behind the development 
of this policy because it has brought tree issues to the attention of local 
politicians (in addition to direct consultation with the arboricultural 
team). This is an example of how involving the local community in tree 
management decisions can bring tangible benefits for tree managers.
 
The council has an account that is specifically for contributions made by 
developers for tree planting made under Section 106 agreements or Unilateral 
Undertakings. This ensures that any money received is spent only on tree 
planting and establishment. TreeBristol is a campaign that aims to plant a 
new generation of trees in Bristol. It is a council-led scheme that is 
supported by local communities and other partners. Since the launch of 
TreeBristol in 2005, the council has planted over 2,500 trees and this has 
allowed the council to develop a team with the capability to manage 
good-quality tree planting and maintenance. The fact that Bristol has 
dedicated tree planting officers and a fund specifically for tree planting 
has allowed this policy to work. 
 
I think that this approach is a great step forward for the consideration of 
trees in the UK planning system. I’m not suggesting that all councils should 
use this method but if you are an arboricultural officer, and you feel at 
times that trees are overlooked in planning decisions, then I encourage you 
to look at what Bristol City Council have done and consider developing your 
own system for compensation.
 
Best regards,
 
Ben


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