Inner West Independent

Inner West Council tree policy sees canopy decline

Tree canopy coverage in the Inner West is under 20%. Tree canopy in Callan Park. Photo: Fiona Ryan.

By EVA BAXTER

The Inner West has regressed on city tree canopy targets with canopy coverage under 20%.

The NSW government’s ‘5 million trees’ program aims to increase Greater Sydney’s tree canopy by 40% by 2030.

Council data found two of the 25 suburbs accounted for nearly half of the tree canopy loss in the Inner West over the past year.

Dulwich Hill accounted for 27% of canopy loss, and Ashfield accounted for 21%.

Leichhardt ward accounted for 23% loss, Marrickville ward saw 11% loss and Stanmore ward and Balmain ward accounted for only 1% of the canopy loss.

Dulwich Hill accounted for 27% loss of canopy in the Inner West over the past year. Photo: NSW government.

Greens candidate for Ashfield ward Dylan Griffiths told the Independent, Inner West Council’s tree policy has contributed to a significant reduction in tree canopy.

“The effect on Ashfield ward has been very significant,” he said.

A recent council community satisfaction survey found there has been a significant increase in resident’s prioritisation towards environmental protections since 2018.

Environment protection was the second highest area of concern, underneath managing development.

DCP

City Hub reported in 2019 that extreme concerns were raised when a tree Development Control Plan (DCP) was passed by the council which approved the removal of almost any tree without council oversight. 

Kelly Eedy is the owner of Trees Company, which provides tree services including removal to the Inner West.

He wrote a short report in 2019 to the Council suggesting that qualified tree officers should be more lenient with the removal of trees that are up against buildings.

“By no means at all did I ever think that they would go as far as to say any tree that’s within two metres, which originally started at three metres, should be removed.

“Three metre clearance from any structure would have been the equivalent to setting fire to the Amazon rainforest for the residents of the Inner West. It won’t kill or destroy the entire Amazon, just the really big important stuff, which I see the policy has certainly begun to achieve.

“It should be the qualified council’s tree preservation officer’s responsibility of whether the tree should be removed, and it should be looked at with consideration to all weather conditions that will affect a tree in its lifetime, not a broad sweeping broom that just decimates really nice trees and incredibly substantial and important trees of our area,” Eedy told the Independent.

Eedy said from discussions with clients within the Inner West Council, the consensus is that the broad, broom sweeping two metre clearance policy seems to have been implemented from fear of injury to persons or for ease of planning and development approval procedure.

He said the process is difficult for clients, making illegal alternatives look more appealing.

“Approval of applications takes far too long, currently up to 8 weeks or so. This is leading to increased frustration on top of everything else going on around us.

“This is just what I am hearing all the time. In some cases, leading to people using the services of companies that have little or no respect for council legislation or the wellbeing of trees in general. It’s all about the dollar they get from a job on the day, that’s all,” he said.

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment ‘5 Million trees’ program is tasked with the objective of increasing Greater Sydney’s tree canopy by 40% by 2030. Photo: Fiona Ryan.

AJ Duncanson, a Leichhardt resident, remembers when the tree DCP was implemented.

“Nobody could quite understand why anyone thought this was a good idea, because it took away the case-by-case risk assessment to trees.”

Greens councillor Marghanita da Cruz said, “what we had in the past is certain things had to be done before you were given permission to remove a tree, and the sorts of things were biodiversity checks for wildlife, and heritage.

“Those checks are not there because the two metre rule overrides them.”

Potentially unlawful

A legal review by the council into the policy found the removal of council discretion makes the policy potentially unlawful.

A public authority such as council must allow itself to consider each decision on its own merits and not remove its discretion to make decisions by applying a rigid or one-size-fits-all policy to all applications.

The two-metre rule fails to allow for Environmental Planning and Assessment Act requirements for development applications to remove trees. The Act includes considerations that must be taken such as likely environmental impacts of the proposed removal on the natural and built environment.

Duncanson wonders why there wasn’t a legal review two years ago.

“They didn’t bother to check whether it was legal or not in the first place, why?

“A cynical person would say, is there some form of influence from property developers going on here?”

Duncanson said a neighbour has recently removed a 40 metre tall Sydney Blue Gum.

“It was a part of several that’s in the street and was a really prominent part of the treescape.”

The policy automatically allows any tree within the same lot two metres distance from a dwelling or garage to be removed.

“The permit was granted, and it’s written on the permit that it’s within two metres of the neighbouring garage, and that’s not what the DCP says.

“It seems to have been removed because the permit was granted improperly.

“I feel like it’s not the only one,” he said.

Road to replanting

da Cruz said a big problem is that there is nowhere to put new trees.

“The tree DCP requires a replacement tree if you remove a tree, but the problem is the replacement tree will be much smaller and for $1500 you can say well I haven’t got room on my land for a replacement tree and give Council that money.

“Council’s got all this money to plant trees and there’s nowhere to plant them, that’s the issue we’re facing.”

Kelly Eedy said the criteria for replacement trees is too difficult and people get daunted by the size and the cost.

“Reduce the required size down to something in the range of 45-50L I feel would be far more appropriate. People who have money and/or want more substantial trees will source them anyway, particularly if local arborists include advice to a client of the benefits of a larger tree if it could be afforded,” he said.

A spokesperson for council said a draft of amendments to the Tree DCP is underway, and consultation with relevant experts is being conducted. It is not known with certainty when this will be ready to present to the Council, although any amendment to the DCP will be open for public review on Council’s website prior to being decided upon.

Related Posts