BoroondaraTrees and natural surroundings: protection

Taking the heat out of the threat to Boroondara’s trees

Taking the heat out of the threat to Boroondara’s trees: it’s up to Council

Ian Hundley

Our current situation

Private properties comprise most of Boroondara – about 75% of the total land area of 6,000 hectares. It is clear, therefore, that for adequate tree cover to be recovered the tree loss experienced on private properties in the last few decades must be reversed.

However, this loss is continuing apace – trees are being rapidly lost in favour of concrete in the municipality, which estate agents persist in misrepresenting as “leafy and green.”

Last year, Boroondara Council was prompted by adverse publicity surrounding illegal tree removals in Balwyn North, to revise its Tree Protection Local Law. Whilst larger monetary penalties for illegal tree removal and other offences had been available to the Council for inclusion in the Local Law since 2020, the Council had failed to act.


 

 

 

One of many trees lost from a Belmore Road, Balwyn North, property which I reported to Council in November 2023. Six breaches were identified and infringements issued under the Tree Protection Local Law. Multiple tree replacements were directed by Council in this case.


What needs to be done

Council has said it will incorporate these increased penalties into the Local Law. Whilst this is an obvious first step, increased penalties alone will not assist the recovery in canopy tree cover. There are essential initiatives which Council needs to employ for the Local Law to be effective, and which I included in my proposals for the revised Local Law. These include:

  • A reduction in the size of any canopy tree which would require a Council permit for removal.

Currently, any tree with a trunk circumference less than 1.1 metres may be removed without a Council permit. However, most trees are smaller than this. Importantly, they also include the less mature trees which should be available to replace older trees. I proposed to Council that trees with a trunk circumference greater than 80 centimetres should in future require Council assessment.

  • Protection of the tree’s root zone

I have lost count of the number of times I have observed the soil at the foot of trees being scarified or compacted by developers and others, in many cases, it seems, deliberately to destroy the tree. More robust measures to protect the root zone of canopy trees are required, including a redefinition of the area that requires protection during building and related works.

  • The pruning of canopy trees needs to be regulated.

The fact that under current arrangements large limbs on canopy trees may be hacked at in the absence of arboreal assessment by Council has precipitated significant losses.

In addition to effective amendment of the Tree Protection Local Law itself, organisational reform is also required within Council.

Each councillor must take ownership of the program to promote the Tree Protection Local Law in their respective wards. Community understanding of the program and of its importance is at rock bottom. Councillors should conduct regular ward meetings to heighten community support and involvement for the recovery of canopy tree cover.

Much greater support is required to assist residents to be the “eyes and ears” for Council to assist in the recovery of canopy tree cover. This should include a legible data base on the Council website to show which trees Council has granted a permit for removal.

To deter illegal tree removal and other offences Council should commence publicising in public media individual cases of offences committed under the Local Law as found in the Magistrates Court.

Council’s assessment guidelines should be reviewed and greater priority placed upon environmental loss relative to aesthetics in determining applications for tree removal than is currently the case. The revised assessment guidelines should in future be published on the Council website.

The Council budget for the administration of the Local Law has also been inadequate for many years. In 2022-23 a mere $260,00 was assigned to the program. To place this in perspective, such funding would provide for about 2.5 full time equivalent staff positions remunerated at the Average Weekly Earning level.  However, applications for tree removal alone may be in the order 1,000 per annum. This leaves essential educational, promotional and enforcement activity woefully under-resourced.

The way ahead

Costs associated with the destruction of trees on private properties should be visited on perpetrators and not, as is happening now, on the environment and the residents who live within it. The proposals I have outlined here to reverse the loss of canopy trees on private properties in Boroondara are comfortably doable, and essential to achieve that end.