4 May 2022

Plant two or pay up - government proposes tough new tree removal laws

| Lottie Twyford
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Autumn trees

The ACT Government is considering proposed laws that would make removing trees costly. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Homeowners who remove a tree on their property would need to plant an additional two trees or pay $600 per tree they cannot replant under proposed new laws the ACT Government has put forward.

Property developers would be subject to even stricter requirements to make up for lost canopy cover. Depending on the size and location of the tree they seek to remove, they could pay up to $14,980 for removing a tree in a high-density area.

The lowest price a developer would pay per tree would be $2410.

Contributions would be required when regulated trees are approved for removal.

Helen oakey

Executive director of the conservation council Helen Oakey said it’s important the new rules actually do what they are intended to do – and developers don’t simply pay the fines. Photo: File.

Executive director of the Conservation Council Helen Oakey welcomed the release of the bill, but noted the new rules must be able to deliver their intended outcomes.

“[The bill] must ensure that it’s worthwhile for developers to protect trees by reconsidering building design, otherwise we could see developers just paying the charges and replacing valuable old trees with smaller trees that will take decades to deliver the same cooling and biodiversity values,” she explained

“The legislation must also ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places – choosing trees that are resilient in the face of a changing climate will be very important over the next decades.”

READ ALSO ACT’s plan to prevent the loss of mature native trees could have gone further: conservationist

The proposed laws are among others intended to protect Canberra’s trees from unsustainable development and help the ACT reach its target of 30 per cent tree canopy by 2045, Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said.

“These proposed laws will help protect and grow our tree canopy to reduce the urban heat island effect, the impact of climate change and retain the leafy character of Canberra,” Mr Steel noted.

Chris Steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the proposed laws would help the government reach its 30 per cent tree canopy cover target by 2045. Photo: Region Media.

The new Urban Forest Bill 2022 would repeal and replace the Tree Protection Act 2005, which only applied to leased land, to improve tree protection on both public and private land and encourage the shared care of Canberra’s trees.

Under the proposed new laws all trees on public land will be regulated as will more trees on private land.

Privately-owned trees more than 8 m tall or wide, or with a trunk circumference of 1.4 m, would be covered under the new regulations while the current laws only cover 12 m tall or wide trees.

“Canberrans will be encouraged to keep existing trees when building new structures or consider alternative tree maintenance options that retain trees,” the government said in a statement.

The laws wouldn’t apply to dangerous trees that threaten safety.

Row of townhouses.

Newly developed suburbs like Coombs accounted for the largest percentage of mature tree losses per suburb between 2016 and 2020. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The bill would also introduce a tree bond system to protect trees that could potentially be damaged by nearby development.

Developers who risk damaging trees as part of their work nearby would be required to pay the value of the tree in a bond which would be returned if no damage was sustained.

A tree protection officer would have to confirm no evidence of damage to the tree before the bond could be returned. The bond would be returned at a minimum of one year after the completion of the works.

The minimum bond amount would be whichever is greater of the tree’s calculated value or $3000. The maximum amount would be three times the tree’s value for exceptional trees and trees at high risk of damage.

“Tree bonds will also provide a strong financial message to developers that valuable trees close to a construction site must be given a high level of protection as work occurs,” Mr Steel said.

READ ALSO Canberra’s great trees are a risk worth having, and managing

For the ACT Government to reach its 30 per cent tree canopy by 2045, an additional 450,000 trees will need to be planted.

According to a 2020 analysis, the tree canopy cover was at 22.5 per cent, and $14 million was allocated in the last budget to get the planting of tens of thousands of trees underway.

Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti last month also released a draft of the government’s Action Plan to Prevent the Loss of Mature Native Trees, which intended to slow the loss of mature urban trees due to land clearing and ensure younger planted trees can mature in the first place.

The ACT lost just over six per cent of its mature urban trees between 2015 and 2020, primarily due to land clearing. Most of these losses were attributed to developing suburbs like Coombs, Denman Prospect, Throsby, Taylor, Wright and Whitlam.

Canberrans can have their say on the draft bill through the YourSay portal. Submissions close on 2 June.

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What’s classified as a tree? A Pygmy bonsai? Lol

HiddenDragon7:15 pm 25 Apr 22

People who are either popping the corks in relief, or hyperventilating in horror, at the thought that all it will take is the payment of $600 per tree for householders and $14,980 for developers to remove any tree more than 8 metres tall under the new rules are absolutely wrong.

The proposed new law retains all the existing restrictions in terms of the very limited grounds for removal of protected trees on leased land, and adds to those restrictions – so the hoops to jump through to get a tree removed will be higher and smaller and only then will the $600/$14980 payments come into question.

This is basically just putting the tree protection regime onto some sort of cost recovery basis – it is most certainly not saying “just pay the fee and fire up the chainsaws”.

This might be a relief to people who don’t think any tree (on other people’s land) should ever be removed but, as other commenters have noted, reducing the threshold for protection from 12+ metre tall trees to 8+ metre tall trees will simply mean that more trees get cut down sooner (or never get planted), and that more Canberrans get a very unpalatable taste of the double standards and hypocrisy of the ACT government regarding trees. None of this will serve the claimed objectives of the new law.

Just noting that the words “(on other peoples land)” doesn’t apply in the ACT. It’s all owned by the govt.

Yeah right. As if anyone is actually going to enforce it. New builds also have to have a certain number of trees and plants but does anyone ever check that has happened? The ACT Legislative Assembly is very keen on the “legislative” part of their title – much less so on actual enforcement. Perhaps they realise that unless they keep making up new laws we will all see that they are pretty much a waste of space and we could make do with half the number and probably less than half the cost.

Great to hear, measures like this are way overdue. We claim to be the bush capital yet we allow any tree under 12m to be killed with zero approvals required. Even 8m is to generous.
At any cost developers must be directed to plant trees, handing over a wad of cash to get the green light for building more ugly concrete towers is not on!

ChrisinTurner5:35 pm 24 Apr 22

The worst offenders are the ACT government, its agencies and their contractors.

Can’t half tell they waste the money they want more of it.
What is the government going to do with the tree bond money are they going to pay interest on it?

We can’t get police on the road yet we’re funding the tree police? what kind of crooked government is this?

Ah, where would we be without endless regulation by the ACT govt? Have they introduced a breathing tax yet?

So we lost 6% of our mature canopy when Coombs, Denman Prospect, Throsby, Taylor, Wright and Whitlam were developed. We shouldn’t be surprised about that because those areas cover a significant portion of residential land throughout Canberra and when the population grows, the land area it requires also grows.

I guess the question is how do you retain mature trees when new subdivisions are created?

Charging a fee to a developer, will just see them pay the fee, fire up the bulldozers and pass the costs on.

Locking up portions within land development areas where mature trees are found, would increase the cost of the remaining blocks and associated infrastructure costs like extra roads, lighting, drainage etc.

So if the issue of tree loss is associated with new development areas, why tighten the rules for trees on privately of owned properties? This seems a punitive measure, for the sake of trees lost through Canberra’s ongoing growth.

Plant small trees. There are many small native species which are trees, not bushes, including eucalypts, and well suited to modern small blocks

HiddenDragon6:51 pm 23 Apr 22

“The laws wouldn’t apply to dangerous trees that threaten safety.”

That’s what they said last time, but it didn’t stop cases like this –

https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6019391/lyneham-couple-wins-ruling-to-cut-down-tree/

The overreach and zealotry inherent in the intended new regime will eventually see it collapse under its own weight – probably after the first avoidable fatality.

Sounds good in principle but places such as my partners house has so many trees that if she were to cut down one tree there would be no room to replace it with two.

Maybe properties with more than a certain number of trees should have some sort of exemption?

Linda Seaniger2:07 pm 23 Apr 22

I hope it’s not a case of do as I say not do as I do.
Our present labor government in the ACT does not have a very good track record of main training tree canopy. Just look at the amount of mature trees that they will be removing to put the tram around London circuit and down to Parliament house. Some beautiful trees will have to be sacrificed that are probably 100 years old. Another Northbourne Avenue nightmare.
I live in Coombs Where we have the lowest tree canopy percentages. Down the jog-a-long track in Fred Daly avenue trees are dead and many fell over because of the wind and no water, some may have been poisoned whilst trying to kill the abundant weeds in the green space, bare in mind that the ACT government has not replaced any of the original Tanbark and the suburbs been going for about six years they just don’t maintain anything properly. I don’t know who designed our open spaces but they need to look at what works best in our environment and is easy for them to maintain. Just doing initial planting and forget about watering or maintaining it does not work!

I suspect the landscaping was put in by the developer to look nice to sell blocks of land, with no plan for later. It’s not like a body corporate place with ongoing maintenance. The developer landscapes the place (likely with immediate look in mind, rather than long term), sells the house blocks, and then the developer is finished and abandons the place. When I see these areas, I think looks lovely, but that won’t last with no ongoing maintenance plan from the residents. I wouldn’t necessarily blame the government. The abandonment was expected. The government might come and mow some grass, but gardening in the suburbs is usually not on the agenda, nor spreading mulch. If the residents want these areas maintained, they will need to organise something for themselves, similar to a body corporate, or volunteer to do the work themselves.
Most older suburbs don’t have these ‘garden’ areas, and grass cutting and the occasional trim of large trees, is the most that usually happens.

averyandrews1:20 pm 23 Apr 22

Not a fan, as far as homeowners are concerned. I’ve lost two trees, basically from drought, in the last 28 years, but the yard is more shaded than ever due to the growth of the others, one of which is contributing to the decline and demise of a third tree, which will have to go eventually, preferably before it falls on the house.

The imminent passage of such a law would probably lead to a lot of premature tree-destruction in order to avoid problems in the future.

A more sensible approach for homeowners might be a rates rebate for actual percentage of the lot covered by trees, with an additional rebate for new plantings (note that you can also plant a tree, and then let it die by not taking care of it!)

I think it is an excellent idea, but will have to read the proposed legislation. I have a euc growing right beside and overhanging my house near the bedroom planted by the previous owner. More than happy to remove it and replace it with multiple suitable trees on my front property. Already have a small forest which has and is being used for nesting with abundant bird life.

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