Trees around buildings - practical considerations

Careful planning prior to urban tree planting, and regular tree inspection and pruning, can eliminate the issues of planting trees near to buildings. The roots of street trees can cause the cracking of roads and pavements and sometimes water pipes. Urban trees can also cause structural damage to buildings, both at foundation level due to their roots, and through the falling of whole trees or branches. Such problems can be minimised by careful species choice and maintenance, and through correct planting methods that determine the optimal location for a species and ensure sufficient space for rootball expansion.

Background

Trees are amongst the most permanent and significant features in our towns and countryside. Planting of trees can enhance the appearance of a development whilst providing rich habitats for a range of wildlife. Trees can also provide cooling and shading during summer months and reduce the energy required for air conditioning systems, and provide shelter from winds and rain during the winter months.

Trees in urban areas improve the environmental quality of the environment in a number of ways. Trees absorb noise and pollution, provide oxygen and moisture, provide privacy and can help stabilise land. It is important when trees or shrubs are planted that care is taken in the siting, selection and planting of trees and shrubs. A tree or hedge should not threaten any building or cause a nuisance that could result in the loss of the tree and damage to buildings or structures.

Practical considerations

To obtain the maximum, long-lasting benefit from trees in urban areas it is essential to involve a broad range of people in the design process; including members of the local community, developers, highways engineers, local authority planners, park managers, arboriculturalists, landscape architects and ecologists.

Guidance on protecting and planting more large trees in urban areas is provided in No Trees No Future. Guidance on planting trees in urban areas is given in Trees in Cities II (PDF-3700K).

Tree species can be specifically selected for survival in urban conditions, and to withstand the stresses of climate change such as drought and changes in temperature. To help in the selection process of choosing suitable trees for urban areas such as London the Right trees for a changing climate tool can be used.

Care taken in choosing the species and cultivars to be planted and where they are to be planted will be well rewarded.  The following points should be considered:

  • Check that the site conditions are appropriate for the trees that are to be planted. Trees that are likely to experience stress or disease as a result of climate change should be avoided. Use of the Right trees for a changing climate tool can enable decision making
  • Trees or shrubs should be planted in a way that does not cause an obstruction to highways, footpaths or public right of ways. Trees should not affect occupants of neighbouring buildings
  • The trees roots can cause damage to foundations or drainage of buildings when planted too close and it may be more appropriate to consider planting a wall shrub or climber in such situations
  • Ensure there is sufficient room for trees to develop and grow. The position of overhead wires, proximity to walls, windows and roofs and future maintenance requirements should be considered.

Services

The Forestry Commission's website provides advice on the physical requirements for large species trees adjacent to buildings, and information on which trees are most appropriate for each soil type, condition and situation, ensuring both are able to co-exist. Also, Forest Research has developed a toolkit that measures the health benefits of planting urban trees.

Further information

Broadland District Council (2009). Advice notes: Trees for planning applicants, developers and building contractors (PDF-1940K). Broadland District Council.

Forestry Commission England (2010). The case for trees in development and the urban environment (PDF-1970K). Forestry Commission, England.

Trees for cities (2005). Trees matter! Bringing lasting benefits to people in towns (PDF-2420K). Trees for cities, London.

Communities and Local Government (2008). Trees in towns II. A new survey of urban trees in England and their condition and management (PDF- 3750K). CLG, London.

BSI (2005). Trees in relation to construction: Recommendations. BS5837:2005, BSI London.

Other resources

Further information on the benefits of urban trees can be obtained from Trees for Cities. And advice on Managing urban trees as part of streetscape design can be obtained from CABE.

Barrell Tree Consultancy (2006). Traditional urban tree planting strategies: time for change? (PDF-2360K) Barrell Tree Consultancy.