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Neighbouring trees – Are they your problem?

There may be trees on your development site and you may plan to clear them, but what if your neighbours have trees?

You have a degree of control over trees within your ownership. You probably already know you may need a tree survey to tell you which to remove and how to design your scheme around them. Whilst trees outside of your ownership won’t stand directly in the way of your development, they can still influence your site in three ways:

1. Statutory Protection

Neighbouring trees may be protected by Tree Preservation Orders or Conservation Areas. Normally you would be legally entitled to cut back to the boundary, any part of a tree that overhangs your property, above or below the ground. The presence of statutory protection means you cannot do this whenever you choose, and the local planning authority may limit any work or prevent you from doing so. This means you may have to accept neighbouring trees partially overhanging your site. Greater importance may also be given to the impact of development on protected trees in a planning application.

2. Common Law Duty of Care

Even if neighbouring trees aren’t protected, you cannot always cut trees back to the boundary. We all have a common law duty of care to our neighbours – we could be held liable for the consequences of what we do, or fail to do, within our property if it affects them. If it is obvious that removing half a tree’s crown or roots will lead to a neighbour’s tree falling down or dying, you could be held liable for the cost of any subsequent damage or costs arising from this.

3. Foundation Design

You won’t be able to remove neighbours’ trees, so to comply with building regulations you will need to design foundations close to them in anticipation of their mature size, even if they are only small now. This could increase costs, through greater foundation depth or specialist design. Depending on how close you are building, foundation design may also need to minimise root damage and loss, to meet your duty of care.

Even if your site has no trees, a tree survey will help you design and plan your development where your neighbours do. The survey will:

  • Identify any tree protection and specify work likely to be acceptable by the local planning authority
  • Tell you what work you can carry out without damaging your neighbours’ trees
  • Help with foundation design, identifying trees that will cause problems and provide guidance on what to do

agb Environmental specialises in undertaking tree surveys and arboricultural impact assessments for developments. For more information or to discuss your next project, contact Richard Parmee on 01638 663226 or

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