Insights article

Incorporating trees in new developments

Sebastian Weise
Published: 05/10/2021

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Incorporating trees in new development planning has benefits for the environment, for the health and wellbeing of residents, and can be a smart choice for your business case and general property development strategy. Well designed sites that provide for greater biodiversity within the site boundary are increasingly a must when it comes to considering net zero development strategies. 

In the UK, the government has recently emphasised that new developments should include street trees. The National Planning Policy Framework for England, for instance, states "Planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined and that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments" and the new National Model Design Code strives for a 10% biodiversity net gain for new developments.

This article provides insights into the incorporation of green space in your master plan or spatial strategy. In discussing the advantages we also raise some of the barriers that may be encountered.  

The evidence

A large body of evidence links the presence of green space to health and wellbeing, which is one of the reasons the UK government recommends green space provision within 300 meters of a home.

The evidence shows the positive contribution that green space provides in communities. Benefits from greenspace and street trees include: 

What are common barriers to incorporating trees in master planned developments?

The majority of discussion related to this subject promotes the incorporation of green space in master plans. However, new housing estates often lag in terms of ambition in planning for incorporating trees into new developments. Regulations that include new requirements for incorporating trees may help, but it is only part of the equation. Good design needs to embrace biodiversity targets.

Two key arguments are often raised against trees and need to be addressed:

  • Trees can be seen as a planning constraint on a site development and a hindrance to design plans, for example for the placement aspects of the proposed development or the development density required for the business plan. 
  • Another issue relates to the long-term maintenance of trees. Often management organisations are employed based on service charges paid by residents. Where there is an incentive to keep charges as low as possible, it may impact on ambitions with regard to the incorporation of greenspace.  

Both aspects seem to be key incentives to reduce green space, reduce mature trees and replace with younger ones. Naturally, it means that high quality green space is less likely in development projects in private ownership or those with tight financial viability.


How can you incorporate trees in new developments?

Ecosystems Network UK visited four housing projects that serve as an exemplar for incorporating trees in their master plan, one of them is the master plan for Cambourne, a 4,200-homes master planned settlement, that was planned in the 1990s and is now mostly complete in terms of its build out. 

Cambourne served as a good example for the incorporation of open and greenspace. The master plan for Cambourne made use of the “existing landscape and semi-natural habitats". The ratio of green infrastructure to development was 60% to 40% and the retained green infrastructure plays an important role to prevent flooding. 

The delivery included the following: 

  • The landscape architect was involved during and 12 months post completion to allow a hand over to the parish council and Wildlife Trust
  • During design, Wildlife Trust and the Parish Council were involved to influence “the location of play areas, and open spaces”
  • The Wildlife Trust was involved with 1.5 FTE to manage the new green infrastructure.

Indeed for maintenance, collaboration and partnerships with local groups passionate to look after trees and who recognise their benefit to the local area can help overcome the perceived issues related to maintaining healthy trees. Facilitating tree stewardship on small sites is often not an option, and this is where the local council needs to support the green space initiatives. 

What can be done to support trees in master planning?

Any new development will require a tree survey as part of the initial site appraisal, however, a tree survey is not the same as a tree maintenance strategy defining how green space is incorporated, and how existing greenspace is strengthened. 

The following actions are recommended: 

  • Develop a tree management plan: A management plan will ideally define how the green space strategy relates to existing green space and how planned future green spaces are maintained and perhaps linked to the activities of local organisations that look after green space concerns.
  • Check local green space assessment: To help with better planned neighbourhoods, local authorities would ideally have an up-to-date green space assessment so that the natural assets can be recognised in new development projects. Developers should check the open space strategy of the local authority when designing their site. 
  • The incorporation of any such strategy also depends on the support by key stakeholders. This is also where early and regular topical community engagement can make a difference. 
  • Build partnerships with relevant organisations: The incorporation of green space in Master Planning can be better achieved by partnering with a representative organisation, such as the Wildlife Trust who also produce relevant guidelines (see this link) and with local environmental groups. 
  • Invest S106 in local green space: Reserve funds from S106 and other levies to allocate to local initiatives or programs that aim at strengthening signifiant green spaces in the community.
  • Enable the community to comment on the outcomes of the tree survey: The latter concern can be addressed through early community engagement with the tree survey as an input and consideration of upkeep in the future site. The local government officer and a civic organisation representative are best involved in commenting on the results of the tree survey, especially when considering mature trees, key hedges, green space buffers, and so on. 

Consider design best practice: The new National Model Design Code (2021) for England spells out a number of principles for the incorporation of street trees. Those include: 

  • The specification of species of trees for use in a development. 
  • The positioning of trees to ensure the mature trees continue to blend well with the proposed infrastructure and housing.
  • Specification of tree planning considering heavily compacted areas to ensure trees have a good chance to survive long-term
  • Arrangement of planning for and planting trees in coordination with utility providers


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