Dodgy trees near roads and footpaths

Trees overhanging, and posing a risk to roads and footpaths are covered by Highways Act 1980, Section 154. This time we’re looking at section 2.

What’s addressed?

This piece of legislation deals with hedges, trees and shrubs (‘vegetation’) which risk falling onto a publicly accessible highway, road or footpath.

The legislation addresses risk of harm from dead, diseased, damaged, or insecurely rooted vegetation that, by nature of its condition is likely to cause danger by falling.

How is it addressed?

The risk of harm is addressed by “competent authorities” (‘authority’), whom are

  • Highway authorities
  • Strategic highways companies (who manage the highway on a contract basis)
  • Councils
  • Local authorities.

Where a risk is present, the legislation permits an authority to give notice to owner or occupier (‘owner’) of the land on which the hedges, trees or shrubs are growing.

The notice requires the owner to remove the risk (e.g. the dead tree) by cutting or felling within 14 days.

The authorities’ choice of remedial action required will be indicated on the notice.

Does the person have to?

The owner can appeal to a magistrates’ court, but they are legally bound by the requirement until such a time as it is rescinded.

What if they don’t?

If the owner fails to comply within the 14-day period the authority who served the notice can carry the work out and recover the expenses incurred from the owner. For example, they could fell a dangerous tree, and send a bill to the owner.

What if the tree is protected?

Irrespective of whether an authority has served a notice a formal application (for trees subject to tree preservation order) or a ‘Notice of Intent’ (for trees growing in a conservation area) is not required if the minimum pruning in order to comply with the Highways Act 1980 is being carried out.

The work must be carried out to British Standard 3998:2010 (tree work recommendations) and, whilst not a legal requirement, it is good practice to inform the local authority tree officer that you are going to carry out the work so that they add a record to their register and prevent any misunderstandings in the future.