12 August 2019

Canberrans can now grow plants, shrubs on nature strips under new guidelines

| Lachlan Roberts
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ACT Greens’ Caroline Le Couteur and SEE-Change executive officer Edwina Robinson. Photo: SEE-Change.

Canberrans can now grow plants, maintain veggie patches and garden beds on the green spaces outside their homes after the ACT Government released new guidelines for using residential nature strips.

According to new guidelines, residents are now allowed to use the nature strip outside their home to plant groundcovers, native grasses and shrubs up to 50 centimetres in height, or 20 centimetres in a bushfire prone areas.

The guidelines also allow low growing vegetables and fruits to be planted on the nature strip, like pumpkins, potatoes, zucchini and strawberries.

Compacted gravel is allowed on up to 50 per cent of the nature strip, with the remaining area to be used for low-level shrubs or grass for water filtration.

Canberrans can also install brick, stone or timber garden edging up to 15 centimetres high, while temporary protective fencing can be used for new grass and shrubs for up to 13 weeks.

Residents though will need to gain approval if they want to install irrigation systems, synthetic turf, bollards or a second driveway. Parking cars, trailers and caravans on the nature strip are still prohibited.

The guidelines state that ponds, water fountains, retaining walls, letterboxes, chicken runs, shipping containers, play equipment, concrete paths, new trees and permanent fencing are unlikely to be approved.

A clearance zone of 1.5 metres is required for essential services to allow easy access, such as power poles, electricity mini pillars, manholes, meter boxes, water and wastewater utilities.

Not everyone would be able to enjoy this new liberty however, with residents living in heritage precincts or designated areas unable to make changes to the nature strip in front of their home. The nature strips at certain housing precincts in Ainslie, Braddon, Reid, Barton, Griffith and Forrest must remain open and grassed, the guidelines state.

The guidelines also suggest talking to your neighbours before making any changes to the nature strip.

The guidelines said that while nature strips are public land and not part of residential property leases, it is well recognised that a shared maintenance approach between government and the community provides the maximum opportunity for individual and city-wide benefits.

Executive officer of SEE-Change, a local grass-roots sustainability organisation, Edwina Robinson drafted the guidelines and said she believes many Canberrans were unsure about the laws around nature strips.

“A lot of people, particularly in some of the newer areas, did not understand that though they don’t own the nature strip, they need to maintain it,” Ms Robinson told Region Media. “When I was drafting the guidelines, I drove around Dickson and took some photos of some streets.

“There were so many cars parked on the nature strips. Parking on nature strips is really bad for trees because it compacts the soil and stops water from getting in. Other people don’t want to maintain the grass on their nature strip so they replace it with gravel, which gets pretty hot and it’s horrendous.

A clearance zone of 1.5 metres is required for essential services to allow easy access. Image from guidelines.

“On the other extreme, you have people who have huge bushes on their nature strips and that is not great either. You need to have a happy medium and still have visibility.”

Ms Robinson said nature strips had started to become a “wasted resource”, a sentiment echoed by ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury.

“Nature strips are a key feature of Canberra’s garden city character,” Mr Rattenbury said. “They are designed to present an attractive street frontage and are typically planted with grass and street trees.

“In the face of issues such as climate change, peak oil and drought we must start to think more strategically about Canberra’s food security, which is largely reliant on produce imported from interstate.

“Simple measures that allow and encourage residents to grow their own food will have an impact in the longer term on Canberra’s reliance on imported produce.”

Read the new guidelines here.

For more information on heritage precincts (and the ACT Heritage Register) visit www.environment.act.gov.au or call Access Canberra on 13 22 81, or for designated areas, visit www.nationalcapital.gov.au or call the National Capital Authority on 6271 2888.

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Southerly_views2:35 pm 16 Aug 19

In answer to some of the posts about exotic trees planted by the government on nature strips:

We discovered that a Claret Ash on the nature strip had grown roots 30 metres along the side of our house, well past the garage and pushing over a boundary brick retaining wall sitting on a thick foundation. Long story short; the ACT government received a bill for approximately $8000 to cover the engineering inspections and report, siteworks to remove the roots plus repairs to the brickwork, garden beds and concrete paths down the side of the house. The only issue was that I had to organise and pay the contractors over several weeks and then send ACTGOV a consolidated bill which was promptly paid.

There are still dozens of Claret Ash trees growing on nature strips around our suburb but they are slowly being removed as root damage affects more homes.

Whitepointer8:55 pm 13 Aug 19

WTF? Now I’ve seen it all, what happens when an essential service fails like a burst water main or a sewer main repair? Is it up to the homeowner to reinstate their “fantastic homegrown efforts” or will this be put back onto the tax payers?
Absolutely ridiculous, this will not end well.

What happens! The same thing as happens when the sewage or water main that runs under the easement on many blocks of land bursts. The authorities come along and dig up your back garden, even if it’s your prize rose garden. No different.

Of course when you plant or build on an easement you are doing so in full knowledge that they have the right to dig that land up and not be responsible for what you plant on it.

I have a sewerage easement down my back fence line that comes 2.5m into my back yard. I’ve planted over it in full knowledge of the consequences.

Whitepointer7:21 pm 16 Aug 19

Why did you plant your prize winning roses within an easement? Anyway, sorry for your loss. RIP dear roses ?

🙂 I didn’t. I was only giving an example.

When they dig up the easement in the back garden, depending how deep they need to go, it does a lot more damage than just to the easement area, as the dirt must be stored somewhere, and if it’s a deep job (depth varies greatly), bigger machinery than a bop cat will be brought in to dig the grand canyon to get to the pipes. An excavator in my case. The top of the rotary clothes line was removed to give it access. (They did put it back.) This huge pile of dirt will smother other parts of the garden. Fortunately in my case that was only lawn, although most of the back lawn. This dirt pile will remain for several days, along with the excavator, while the work is completed. Digging up the front footpath is nothing in comparison. Fortunately no prize roses that I mentioned. That was only given as an example.

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