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Hazardous trees


Trees can sometimes cause apprehension, particularly if they are tall, leaning, swaying or hollow. Such trees are not necessarily hazardous, and those features are common and even necessary for many trees to survive and attain great age.

In some cases, however, there is cause for concern, for example if a tree suddenly develops a lean. Where there is cracking in the trunk or limbs, presence of decay fungi or other defects which could indicate structural instability, further action is required.

Landowners have a legal duty of care to take reasonable steps to ensure trees on their land are safe. The procedures for dealing with hazardous trees depend both on ownership and the tree’s location, which will determine which authority may become involved.

Roadside trees

The Highway Authority (Kent County Council) responds to trees which are obstructing or may endanger road users. If a tree is obstructing a public highway or you believe it may present a danger to vehicles or pedestrians, please report it using the Kent County Council report a problem on a road or pavement service, or if it is an emergency call:

Trees near footpaths

If a tree is obstructing or presenting a danger to a Public Right of Way, please report it using the Kent County Council report a problem on a right of way service, or if it is an emergency call:

Trees along railway lines

Trees that border railways and stations, including their car parks, are usually the responsibility of Network Rail.

If a tree has fallen onto Network Rail land or is at imminent risk of falling, please call 03457 11 41 41 (24-hour helpline).

Trees near overhead cables

Where tree branches are interfering with telephone lines, the tree’s owner should undertake works to avoid damage to the lines. Where damage has already occurred, please contact Openreach.

For management of trees near power lines, please contact UK Power Networks for advice.

Trees on your land

If you believe a tree on your land is hazardous, you should contact a qualified arborist as soon as possible for advice.

If the tree is imminently hazardous and is covered by a Tree Preservation Order or within a conservation area, you must give us written notice at least five working days before the works are to be carried out, or as soon as practicable in the case of an emergency. Such works must be limited to the minimum required to address the hazard.

Your notice must include the tree’s species (if known), location and TPO number (if applicable), as well as descriptions of the hazard and the proposed works. Photographs and a statement from a qualified arborist would be helpful.

If emergency works are carried out prior to a Council Officer’s assessment of the notice, it is essential that you be able to provide adequate photographs and a written statement from a qualified arborist demonstrating the need for the works, or you could be found guilty of committing an offence.

All documents should be submitted to or by post to:

Planning Support
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Mount Pleasant Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells

It should be noted that there is a duty to replace trees removed under a 5-day notice.

Other hazardous trees

For any other hazardous tree, you should notify the tree’s owner (that is, the owner of the land on which the tree is growing) as soon as possible.

If you do not know who owns the land, you can search for property information from HM Land Registry. The council does not hold details of land ownership.

The Local Authority has powers under Section 23 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to compel a tree’s owner to carry out management to address a hazardous tree, or to authorise person(s) to enter the land to inspect the tree and, if necessary, carry out remedial works and recover the costs.

These powers are discretionary and would only be considered where:

  • there is a high probability of the tree causing significant damage or injury, and
  • the tree’s owner has been made aware of the hazard and is unable or unwilling to mitigate the risk, or ownership cannot be established.

If you have attempted to contact the owner and have been unable to, or if you have been in contact and they have not taken action, please write to or by post to:

Planning Support
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Mount Pleasant Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells

You must include the species and location of the tree, evidence of a specific and identifiable defect which makes the tree unsafe and evidence of attempted contact with the tree's owner in the form of letters, emails or logs.

The council has no legal obligation to act and is not liable for any damage caused.

Debris fall, encroachment of branches or roots and the height or spread of a tree are not alone grounds for the council to invoke these powers.