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Bristol Tree Event: “Online TPOs save company two hours per application”

by on July 17, 2012

Last Thursday we hosted a free training event at our offices in central Bristol to encourage tree professionals in the area to submit their works to trees and TPO applications online.

The event was the first of a series of activities we are delivering in partnership with our four neighbouring West of England local planning authorities (LPAs) to look at ways to improve the planning services they provide while reducing waste, costs and red tape.

The four LPAs – Bristol City, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Councils, meet regularly to discuss new joint working initiatives, and share ideas and best practice.

As part of this approach, they are encouraging all planning applications to be submitted online using the Portal. Their websites make clear their preference for online submissions which has resulted in each of  them receiving more than 60% of applications online.  This also ties-in with their wider strategic aims to encourage greater take-up of electronic service delivery channels.

The interactive session included a presentation from Ian Barrow of Bartlett Tree Experts Ltd about their experiences of adopting the Portal for online submissions.

Ian said: “Having introduced online submission throughout the company several years ago, we now submit all of our annual about 1,700 applications via the Portal.

“This has saved us a couple of hours per application and helped to streamline our processes, making it easier to actively monitor and manage applications and keep our customers updated on progress.

“The Portal has helped to achieve a much needed standardisation to the submission process and improved relationships with Planning Authorities through consistency and certainty of service”.

Claire Harbinson of Bristol City Council gave an interesting presentation on ‘A day in life of a Tree Officer’ which included her involvement in helping set local policy through to its implementation on the ground.

The Portal team were also on-hand to give a tailored walkthrough of making an online tree application to help overcome any perceived barriers and registered many new users to help them get started.

The event also provided a good opportunity for the LPA representatives to network and build closer relationships with their regular submitters, discussing local policy and how they process applications.

Keith Stuffins who owns Blackthorn Boundaries said: “I’m not a regular user of the internet, I submit all my applications on paper by post. I’ve been encouraged to attend by a BANES arboricultural officer and prior to the event was not aware of the Planning Portal. Now that I’m registered I’m determined to give it go.”

In the Autumn the Planning Portal will be hosting a similar event in partnership with the West of England LPAs but focused on planning matters and joint working initiatives.

I would personally like to thank all the LPAs for contributing to a successful event, Mark Chester for attending from the Consulting Arborist Society and all those that attended and welcome you to the online planning community.

If you are an LPA interested in working with the Planning Portal to host a similar event, or would like to encourage greater take-up of online planning applications, please contact

  1. Tuesday 17 July 2012

    Dear Planning Portal,

    I think the idea of having “online” TPO applications and decision-making on TPO trees regarding their cutting down and removal, should be made a public access information as by right.

    On my local council website I could not find any mention of a TPO tree which I subsequently discovered had been removed.
    A great deal of time and effort was wasted with communications going backward and forward to the Local Planning Office – costing a great deal of public money because people had to read and respond – when all along the Council had already given permission for the TPO tree to be removed and therefore it was not pertinent to this application at all!

    Had there have been an automated system, we could immediately have seen that this tree had already been removed, and avoided considerable waste of time, energy and public money at the same time.

    Wasting of time and money and loss of goodwill is the result of not having a properly calibrated NATIONAL system of TPO trees so that we can ALL know where they are, rather than rely on an LPA website where the TPO tree information was not updated in “real time”.

    I wholly endorse the idea of maximising ALL planning via a national portal where anyone can get instant access to the publication thereof.

    Thank you very much for your sterling work.

    Best wishes

    Rosemary Cantwell

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Thanks for sharing your views Rosemary.
      I have taken the liberty of redacting the name of the Local Authority you refer to in accordance with our house rules.
      I hope you’ll be happy with this.

  2. Chris,
    clearly the experience in Bristol and the South West shows what is possible and best practice that should be followed by other LAs, however the experience of Rosemary is more typical. TPOs can not be submitted digitally in most LAs and the TPO record albeit a public record is not available on our LAs website.
    If the records were live on the website we would not have to involve officer time as we do for every tree. (Clearly mistakes in the area can be very costly).
    Whether completing TPO applications online would actually save time is questionable but it would certainly help us with our (and the Councils) environmental aspirations and record keeping.
    Best wishes with future events and I hope such good practice is infectious.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Thanks Rob and let us know if we can help ease the wheels in your location. All the LPAs who attended the event said they are in the process of publishing their TPO registers online, with the first one being expected next month. I’ll keep you updated.

      I should make it clear though that it is possible to submit an application to carry out works to trees (either TPO or works to trees in a Conservation Area) to any LPA in England and Wales using the Planning Portal.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  3. Rosemary Cantwell permalink

    19 July 2012

    Dear PortalDirector and Rob Keyzor,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful responses. The reason that the TPO issue is a vital one is now that we have Localism and the Big Society, local communities are to have much more say and power but also responsibility for ensuring that all goes to plan – literally.

    As part of my local LA’s Core Strategy, where I responded to the consultation, I considered that the merits of having a centralised “database” of TPO trees should be aligned with protected ancient monuments and listed buildings, listed structures, listed building curtilage buildings/structures and listed building curtilages so that we can find out the details without spending millions of hours and pounds trying to find out what is actually on the ground.

    For Google have mapped aerially with photographs and there is satellite evidence so that a person can be seen reading a newspaper – so it is not impossible to use this technology to map ALL protected curtilages with exact boundaries, and ALL protected TPO trees and all Listed Buildings and their precise listed building curtilage buildings and/or structures, because clearly some of this can and does end up in the Courts and people arguing over a few “centimetres” or a few “feet” when clearly all that is required is an OS-style map of all these things which can be stored and altered in real time electronically.

    I am sure that the initial outlay would reap much by way of dividends over the coming years.

    With best wishes


    Rosemary Cantwell

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi Rosemary. I updated my response to Rob seconds before I received your update. All the LPAs who attended the event said they are in the process of publishing their TPO registers online, with the first one being expected next month.

      We very much support this move towards greater e-enablement of the planning system. Clearly you do, too.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      P.S Rosemary, call me Chris

  4. Rosemary Cantwell permalink

    19 July 2012

    Dear PortalDirector and Rob Keyzor,

    I am very pleased to know that the local authorities all plan to place their TPO information online. This is positive.

    However, the problem came about in my Local Authority because what the ONLINE TPO information stated was out-of-date and not updated.

    Therefore, it categorically showe 4 TPO trees in a specific planning application. But, in fact there were only 3 TPO trees on the actual site, and we kept asking but where is the fourth TPO tree?

    This was where the online TPO did NOT measure up to standard. And why I believe it to be crucial to have a NATIONAL GRID of TPO trees, along with a NATIONAL GRID of Listed Buildings, Listed Building Curtilages with precise boundaries, NATIONAL GRID of Listed Building Curtilage Buildings and Curtilage Structures.

    English Heritage informed me that they are solely responsible for the Listed Buildings and Structures and that it is the responsibility of the local authorities to provided specific details about curtilages and curtilage structures and buildings. However, in my own local authority, they have been specifically unable to produce this level of detail notwithstanding several FOI Requests to the local authority regarding 4 specific Listed Buildings. When I discussed it with a key official of English Heritage, he laughed and said that this often ends up in the High Court!

    But this surely must be tackled head on.

    For the local authorities are also responsible for determining what is the Listed Building’s “setting” and this has not been stated for these listed buildings either and that is why the gentleman from English Heritage is correct in his evaluation.

    But it is now possible and surely essential to get this sorted out once and for all, so that people do not suddenly find themselves being prosecuted for contravening planning legislation about TPOs and Listed Building Curtilages and Curtilage Structures and Curtilage Buildings and Listed Building Settings about which nothing is published until someone retrospectively from an LA descends with a writ.

    That is why it is essential to get this resolved electronically urgently and make it a one-click operation to find information worldwided, not just per LA.

    Thank you so much.

    Best wishes,



  5. That’s brilliant information Chris, Thank you very much!

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