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Good tree management can make or break a project

Arboricultural consultant and chartered surveyor Ben McWalter calls for trees to be thought about early in the design process

The recent revisions to British Standard BS 5837:2012 - Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction - were made with the intention of bringing clarity to the planning application process, expediting decision-making and facilitating a smooth path to design and implementation. The reality is somewhat different.

The harsh truth – taken not only from my own experience, but also from conversation with colleagues in the tree management profession - is that many architecture firms remain unaware of the standard and its recommendations relating to best-practice tree management. The standard’s clear advice is for tree-related consultations and decisions to be taken at the early feasibility and planning stages. Too often however, tree management decisions are taken reactively, having been overlooked at the feasibility stage and flagged-up too late in the process. If our business is typical, then approximately 80 per cent of design related calls are retrospective  in nature – somewhat panicked conversations asking for urgent help with trees rather than calm and considered approaches made before the design brief is submitted.

This reactive approach can have serious consequences. Projects can be placed in jeopardy, resulting in lost revenue for architects, not to mention reputational damage as clients ask ‘why didn’t you know about this?’.

It is actually a very simple process to avoid such unnecessary wastage and distress. Being pro-active and appraising trees and their management more positively, alongside the constraints imposed on design, can save money for both architect and client. Unfortunately, the opposite is rather more common, with trees viewed as a problem to be overcome retrospectively.

One might look at the issue another way. In terms of professionalism, how can architects possibly approach design with anything other than fingers-crossed if they don’t know the full scale of the constraints governing a site? 

Undoubtedly, the fact that tree-management challenges are not particularly frequent means that, when they do occur, decision-making suffers from lack of precedence. However, there is simply no need to introduce risk to the design and construction process.  The best architecture firms understand that an Arboricultural Consultant is a key contact. As a result, these firms are seeing a good success rate of consent against application and are building reputations as firms with expert end-to-end knowledge.

Ben McWalter is an arboricultural consultant and chartered surveyor with over 20 years experience in tree care. www.hursttreeconsultants.co.uk

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