By ALEC SMART
The Greens and several independent councillors on the Inner West Council (IWC) are fuming after a revised plan for tree protection was amended at the last minute and voted into policy. The aggrieved councillors claim they were ‘ambushed’ when it was revealed the amendments, which permit residents to fell trees within three metres of their homes, were prepared with the foreknowledge of Mayor Darcy Byrne, without their consultation.
At the IWC meeting on 27 August, councillors expected to vote on a Development Control Plan (DCP) to guide tree management, updating policy made before regional councils Ashfield, Leichardt and Marrickville were amalgamated to form the IWC in May 2016.
However, as Councillor Pauline Lockie (Independent, Stanmore) told City Hub, “Council’s Tree DCP had been on public exhibition for months. Councillors knew about it well before then, and we’ve had several chances to amend it before it went on exhibition.
“But instead of changing it then, Clr Victor Macri tabled nearly four A4 pages of changes on the night, which the Herald later said he’d worked on with Darcy Byrne.
“These changes rewrote big parts of the plan, and significantly weakened controls designed to protect our already low urban canopy cover in the inner west. This included expanding the criteria for trees that can be removed without any Council approval to ones within 3m of any structure on private property – houses, garages, fences, you name it. That’s a recipe for disaster in an area like the inner west, where most trees would be within this 3m zone.
“I didn’t see any of them before they were tabled, and neither did the Greens councillors. More to the point, our community has had no chance to review these changes.”
Greens seeing red
The Greens launched a petition to counter the new DCP, stating: “Disappointingly, Labor just struck a grubby political deal with Liberal Councillors, voting to destroy the current Inner West Council Tree Policy and allow the removal of almost any tree without Council oversight. The Council had developed a new Tree Policy earlier this year which returned from public consultation with over 80% approval from the community. This Policy was gutted by a sweeping last-minute amendment … Labor is trading the protection of our trees to secure the Liberal votes they need to keep the Mayor in power at the September Mayoral elections…”
Jeff Angel, Executive Director of Total Environment Centre, told City Hub: “We are extremely concerned about the implications for the Inner West… The pendulum has swung too far towards indiscriminate tree clearing.”
Some of the points he raised included:
“The inner west is typified by small lots and the 3 metres clearing zone would in many cases involve all trees on a property. Virtually all inner suburban councils with a similar preponderance of small lots do not allow such indiscriminate removal.
“There has been no environmental assessment of the impact of these major changes … There is no obligation to replace a tree and, given the small lots, owners would be loath to plant another tree in the 3 metre zone encompassing the bulk of their yards … The amendments are in direct contravention of the state government’s priorities to ‘increase’ Sydney’s tree canopy … Councillors argue the amendments are needed to alleviate financial impacts on low income residents but have not adopted any alternative processes … Trees planted on public land won’t compensate as most residents don’t live near the green spaces…”
However, replacing elderly trees with young saplings reduces wildlife, as saplings don’t attract the diversity and density of species that large, older trees do, many of which are life-support systems to a huge menagerie of insects, birds and animals, ranging from bugs and caterpillars to possums and visiting bats and flocks of parrots.
In November 2014, following the devastating 2013 bushfires in which over 200 properties were lost, the 10-50 Rule was implemented in NSW to create fuel-free buffer zones around homes that advancing bush fires could not ignite.
The rule permitted people in a designated 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Entitlement Area to clear trees on their property within 10 metres of a home without council approval, and also clear underlying vegetation/shrubs (but not trees) within 50 metres of a home without approval.
Unfortunately, since 2014, anecdotal evidence has revealed a multitude of abuses of the 10-50 Rule. These include waterfront dwellers chopping down trees for improved sea views – adding value to their properties – and the felling of deciduous trees to avoid annual sweep-ups of autumn leaves.
Massacre or management?
Will IWC’s amended Tree Management DCP encourage inner-west residents to launch the ‘tree massacre’ that Greens predict?
Councillor John Stamolis (Independent, Balmain) is highly sceptical. He told City Hub: “I proposed 3 amendments before supporting this new tree policy. These were:
1. To increase the canopy in the business zone from a target of 15% to 25%.
2. To provide information on Councils’ website to assist residents with replanting.
3. To provide quarterly statistics to monitor the new policy. (Any new policy needs to be carefully monitored to ensure positive outcomes such as increasing canopy.)
“If the policy doesn’t work, we will rethink it immediately. It’s not about reducing canopy but giving a little more power to our residents to manage their environment.”
A professional statistician who worked for the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 20 years, Clr Stamolis explained, “Growth in tree canopy in the Inner West started in the early 1970’s and has increased every year since then. It is one of the most successful and sustained community-driven programs in the history of the inner west. The physical evidence of this can be seen in our homes, streets and parks … Our tree canopy today is 18%. If you compare this to other similar inner-city areas, we are leading the pack. Even better, our target is 40% over the years ahead.
“I have great trust in my fellow residents and in Council to continue to increase tree canopy. I also want to show that our tree policy respects tree owners, that we value them and thank them for their commitment and contribution to our environment. Being heavy-handed and disrespectful to people who make a big commitment to our environment isn’t a sensible approach, especially when you want to move from 18% to 40% tree canopy. You need to work with residents.”
Whether the inner-west’s tree count will fall or rise, time will tell.