The war on trees

March 2017

Some of our Councillors are trying to pass a motion that will give open slather to tree removal across the Shire. They are saying that this is necessary because residents are unable to remove “dangerous” tree.

This is simply not true.

Sutherland Shire already has policies in its DCP to easily allow the removal of dead, dying and dangerous trees without the requirement of council permission.

As Councillor Ray Plibersek pointed out: “There are 31 species of trees that are currently exempt for protection under the currently Sutherland Shire development control plan… On average 7000 trees are being removed from the shire every year. In 2016, nine out of 10 trees applied for by removal application were granted approval.” (St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, 2 March, 2017)

The 2015 Sutherland Shire DCP sets Council’s Natural Resource Management priorities. The requirement is to:

“Ensure the retention and protection of trees and bushland vegetation that are important to the conservation of biodiversity in Sutherland Shire, and the maintenance of the scenic quality and treed character of Sutherland Shire.”

The motion proposed by Councillor Johns fails to uphold Council’s management priorities set out in the DCP, and opens the way to unscrutinised removal of trees on private property.

A rescission Motion, due to be debated at our next Council Meeting on 20 March 2017, seeks to amend Council’s  current requirements so that a landowner will be able to remove a tree on their land without the need to obtain Council’s consent.  The original defeated Motion, debated 20 February 2017, contained no detail whatsoever on how such a policy would provide Council with the ability to record tree losses, ensure compliance, provide oversight and professional guidance, and, more generally, track compliance with Council requirements and the replacement of trees.

The rules for the treatment of our trees, including the removal of dangerous trees, are contained with-in Draft DCP Chapter 38. Should the rescission Motion succeed, dramatic changes would occur to our Draft DCP. A change to the Draft DCP by this method would be un-democratic, by-pass scrutiny and would appear to involve NO community consultation what-so-ever. It would also undermine the out-come for our community vision of “no net loss of tree canopy” as losses would no longer be measured!

Stated in Council’s Community Strategic Plan is a community vision of “no net loss of tree canopy.” Our Local Government Area, Sutherland Shire, is undergoing rapid, intensive development. Reports obtained from Council documents show that from late June 2015 until July 2016, Council had determined $1.3b worth of development applications, including several thousand new dwellings. This included 275 applications for dual occupancy development, which typically result in the removal of several established trees on each site.

The cumulative impact on tree canopy across the Shire, given the volume and pace of new development will be significant. The dramatic increase in development potential of land, via SSLEP2015 increased FSR’s and subsequent decrease in landscaped ratios, appears to be fuelling unprecedented loss of canopy trees!

  • In 2016, nine out of 10 trees applied for by removal application were granted approval.
  • On average 7000 trees are being removed from the Shire every year.
  • The 10/50 legislation also allows for trees to be removed in bushfire zones, with no figures available.

Our trees improve biodiversity, create a sense of place in neighbourhoods, and bring broader benefits such as improved air quality and reduced temperatures in urban areas. Our trees also assist with visual amenity, biodiversity, thermal comfort, with mature trees and their hollows providing habitat for wildlife. Tree loss, large clearings and fragmentation of green-webs could change the connectivity of wildlife corridors. Large mature trees also offset the impact of intensive development and new plantings might help to foster a sense of community in neighbourhoods if residents help take care of new trees.

We call on our council to ensure the retention of significant mature trees, as well as aiding the restoration of our canopy and our green-web. We remind Councillors that we expect compliance with the Community Strategic Plan and the community vision of “no net loss of tree canopy.”

You can help to protect our tree canopy, to stave off potential tree losses and the further devastation of our trees. A loss of 7000 trees per year, and the cumulative impact of losses this size, is unacceptable!

Actions you can take:

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