Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) are slowing down - or even in some cases preventing development - costing land-owners and developers thousands of pounds, according to research by Black Country law firm George Green.
More than 90 per cent of developers and landowners questioned said that they had been affected by TPOs.
Shilpa Unarkat, an associate in the commercial property department of George Green, says that one of the main problems with Tree Preservation Orders is that local authorities are able to act at short notice during and out-side normal office hours and can therefore apply them at any time.
"An emergency order can be made within 24-48 hours in respect of trees which are considered to be an amenity to a local area, for example where trees face onto a main road or can be seen from the main road," she said.
"We found that many developers had been hit by having TPO notices served on the landowner for trees on their acquisition sites between the exchange and completion of contracts or during the planning application process," added Ms Unarkat, who is based in George Green's Cradley Heath offices.
Tree Preservation Orders prevent the cutting down, lopping, uprooting, topping, trimming or damaging in any way of trees under such an order without the permission of the planning authority, with fines of up to £20,000 per tree for breaking the order.
They can be applied to all trees regardless of species whether it is a single tree or woodland. Hedgerow trees can be protected but not hedges, bushes or shrubs. Increasing numbers of householders are having TPOs served on them which affect trees in their back gardens.
According to Ms Unarkat, the application of a TPO can significantly affect the potential of a site for development, reducing the developer's profit margin or effectively rendering building on the site impossible.
She said: "If a site is situ-ated in a Conservation Area, developers should also be aware that there is special protection for all trees within that area and felling or lopping of such trees without consent carries the same penalties as trees protected by a TPO.
"TPOs generally mean that developers have to alter their plans for a site, changing building layouts and modifying drainage to avoid tree roots.
"This often leads to a reduction in the number of residential units which can fit onto a site, taking the profitability out of the site and vastly reducing the value of the land, as it becomes difficult to develop to its maximum potential.
"We found that some small developers or self builders have been caught out by TPOs, especially when they acquired land at auction because they failed to carry our prior searches and surveys which would have revealed existing TPOs."
However, according to Ms Unarkat, a TPO on a site does not necessarily mean the end to development. She says: "TPOs are negotiable. The local authority can agree to the removal of a tree under a TPO in return for the planting of a number of other similar trees elsewhere on the site.
"A TPO does not prevent planning permission being granted although the planning authority will consider the risk to protected trees."