BLOG - More street trees please: four simple steps to durable delivery

8th July 2020

The suburban housing estate where my parents live in Newcastle was built back in the 1960s, with one new tree per house being part of the marketing campaign: a nice little developer’s sales pitch that has clearly fallen out of favour in the intervening period. But now they are back!

Recent policy and guidance documents are starting to build a momentum behind a trees-led approach on new developments:

  1. The report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods. This included recommendations to plant more street trees, create urban orchards and plant fruit trees for homes.
  2. The National Design Guide recognises the importance of trees in new development, and sets out how landscaping, including streets being tree-lined wherever possible, will be considered as part of the forthcoming National Model Design Code.
  3. The Government intends to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to set clear expectations for new developments to ensure appropriate trees are incorporated in developments, in ways that they can thrive, be easy to maintain, and minimise the risk of damage or interference with buildings or infrastructure.
  4. Defra’s consultation on an England Tree Strategy, which wants to deliver 30,000 hectares of new trees per year by 2025.

The Defra consultation in particular has been fascinating me lately. A significant proportion of the consultation document focusses on identifying the barriers to the establishment and delivery of trees and woodland across England, and considers how they could best be removed. The barriers that is – not the trees!

It’s not all about big, commercial woodlands and subsidies though. This little snippet about tree-lined streets in particular caught my eye:

‘With appropriate steps taken, our commitment to tree-lined streets, and the benefits these will bring, can be realised. As we want to see all new streets lined with trees, we welcome views on any barriers to establishing and maintaining street trees, from the early stages of planning through to the effective planting of the trees and maintenance over their lifetime. We also welcome views on how these barriers can be overcome.’

It feels like a lofty goal to have all new streets tree-lined for sure, even though as I’ve said, some developers were doing it way back in the 60s!

Defra go onto say that:

‘Once planted, maintenance then needs to be appropriately funded and managed – responsibilities for this maintenance tends to sit with highways authorities where the road has been adopted, or through alternative mechanisms on private roads.’

In my experience, developers on new housing developments often prefer for all of the green infrastructure, including trees, to become the responsibility of the management company. Especially when they are building out, as this affords greater control over the maintenance regime when developers want their sites to look pristine to help enhance sables.

Challenges

A couple of the key challenges to the creation of tree lines streets are:

  1. Developer / promoter reticence to reducing net developable area: some developers focus on quality of the environment and expect to get that back through additional value of the finished product; others are more cheap and cheerful and cram ‘em in. Under either model, land is precious and space for trees carries a cost.
  2. Local authority barriers – especially due to the effect on roads. Highways officers, I’m told, generally don’t like trees: they require maintenance, can obstruct visibility and drop leaves which creates a slippy mush in Autumn, which somebody needs to clean up. When they grow, they can damage roads and footpaths, which can create trip hazards and require costly repairs.

Solutions

So what are the solutions? Four simple measures I’d advocate are:

  1. Think about the 6 S’s for a simple starting point: situation, species, specimens, soils, sub-terrain and space (ssssss).
  2. Focus marketing on the quality of the environment within the development: buyers love trees!
  3. Identifying future management responsibilities / areas at the planning stage, and definitely before first sales.
  4. Establish an appropriate, properly funded management and maintenance regime from the outset – and pick the right management company to deliver it.

What are your views on the main barriers to trees on every new street and how the barriers can be overcome? I’d be interested in hearing your views. (1)

_____________________________________________________

Trevor Adey

7 July 2020

As would Defra: their consultation runs until 11 September 2020 (https://consult.defra.gov.uk/forestry/england-tree-strategy/).


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