BoroondaraTrees and natural surroundings: protection

Tree Protection Policies

By 31 May 2024June 5th, 2024No Comments

Tree Protection Policies

In Victoria, trees are covered by general property law and ‘common law’, which is law the courts have developed over time.

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria[1] explains that, ‘This means that generally, a tree owner doesn’t have a legal obligation to maintain their tree unless it’s causing damage or nuisance’.  The DSCV points out, however that trees can also be covered by council rules.  Before acting, people should check with their local Council to see if the particular tree is protected.

What trees are protected?

Most municipalities around Australia have local laws to protect trees within their region that have been identified as either a significant tree or a canopy tree.

The City of Boroondara defines significant trees as ‘…outstanding trees that we have identified as ‘significant’ because of their impressive size, age, rarity, ecological value, or cultural and historical significance. They can be on private property or public land’.

Boroondara identifies canopy trees as being on private land and contributing to Boroondara’s biodiversity, shade and privacy.[2] In particular, a canopy tree is defined as having a trunk circumference of either 110 cm or more, measured at 1.4 m above ground level or 150 cm or more at ground level. If the tree has multiple stems, the circumference is the total of the stems measured at 1.4 m above ground level.

Boroondara’s Tree Protection Local Law

Boroondara’s Tree Protection Local commenced operation in 2006 and was revised in 2016. Since November 2023, the Council has been looking at updating this local law to address its failure to arrest the increasing loss of canopy trees on private land.  This included one month of community consultation in which residents were given the opportunity to participate in a survey or to make a submission.

The updated version of the local law was approved at the Council meeting on 27 May 2024. The new version increased the level of fines and made minor changes to the definition of canopy trees. For more detail on the changes, go to  https://engage.boroondara.vic.gov.au/draft-tree-local-law-2024

Concern still exists within the community as to whether this new law goes far enough to prevent further decline in canopy tree cover.  Some point to the low level of awareness of the law, the level of resources made available to apply the law including the effectiveness with which it will be monitored; the availability  of mechanisms that enable residents to participate in its operation and to report potential losses before they happen, and the need to educate residents of the contribution trees make to amenity, economy and sustainability.  Some of these concerns are discussed in articles below.

[1] https://www.disputes.vic.gov.au/information-and-advice/trees-0

[2] https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/services/environment-and-sustainability/trees/protected-and-significant-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.

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.

Published in Eastsider News May 2024 edition

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.

Destruction of Canopy Trees

In May 2024 edition of Eastsider News as in many previously, our contributors have written much about the unique role trees play for our personal health and the health of our environment, community and economy.

One contributor writes about the anguish she feels to see a neighbouring block completely denuded of all trees by the property developer. Others write of the deterioration of local livability, sustainability, and neighbourhood character with the loss of trees expected to accompany Victorian Government initiatives such as ‘Future Homes’ and the planning changes associated with the Suburban Rail Loop. Contributors have also written about the role of local government including the need to protect trees as natural assets, the maintenance and improvement of quality open space and our urban tree canopy to build climate and community resilience.

Our writers warn that the situation regarding trees and their preservation will potentially become much worse in the future. Approaches such as fast-tracked approvals under the ‘Future Homes’ initiative to push through 3-storey apartment developments will leave little in the way of open space and very limited space for canopy trees.

While it is essential we respond to the many challenges confronting our world and adapt to change, we must ensure the chosen solution adopts a longer term view and considers all factors not just the immediate and seemingly economically efficient solution.

As the WWF has pointed out, ‘More and more, we’re turning to new technologies to help us tackle the environmental crisis. But the irony is that the perfect tech already exists, and has done for millions of years, right under our noses – trees.’

It is essential that decision makers at the State and local government become aware of their constituents’ concerns, and the extent and nature of the problem. The voices of their constituents are an importance source of information on other ways to solve these problems.

A suggestion by Cynthia Pilli, concerned by the practice of moonscaping, is that you take a photograph of any such activity in your neighbourhood. Send the photograph to your Councillor requesting action to prevent unnecessary destruction of precious canopy trees in line with existing law. Thank you to David Berry who has prepared a list of contacts in the City of Manningham. This list is available on our website here:  https://www.eastsidernews.org.au/protecting-canopy-trees/

A call to stop destructive tree removals in Manningham.

Cynthia Pili

The City of Manningham, like many Victorian local councils have policies and programs for the purpose of protecting trees on private land.

In Manningham, canopy trees are being unceremoniously pushed over and removed with virtual impunity. Council policies,regulations and practice are doing little to discourage the practice of ‘moonscaping‘, whereby canopy trees and other vegetation is removed, commonly in association with subdivision and new residential construction.

This destruction on our Council’s watch, on our watch, is sickening. We inherited the gift of a Manningham with substantial canopy tree cover. This is now fast disappearing. In a tug of war for time to slow climate change, to protect this earth. Council consent to substantial canopy tree removal, in many cases without replacement, is negligence beyond measure.

For instance, why is it, that in a Manningham Council town planning report of a property near my residence. Why is there no vegetation located on site (moonscaped) when two months ago, it contained several large trees at its boundary? Why is intentional destruction not met with a please explain from Council represenatIves? And how did the subdivision proposal for this very large property (I estimate about 1,500 square metres in area) meet Manningham’s Neighbourhood Character Objectives; Standard C6 that requires the protection of significant vegetation? It has been a failure on all these crucial points by Manningham Council.

In meeting our future housing needs, we need intelligent plannng and effective implementation of policies to protect us from the tyranny of those without any interest in the welfare of our natural environment and the living conditions that remain in Manningham for the generations that will follow.

 

Once a well treed residential block in Doncaster East, now largely devoid of vegetation following recent demolition.

First published in Eastsider News May 2024 edition

The Tragic Tale of Two Trees

Carmel McNaught and Franklin Rosenfeldt

Canopy trees are vital, now more than ever, for the physical, mental and economic health of our community. Melbourne’s tree canopy is decreasing, even in our leafy Eastern suburbs. In this article we present two cases that illustrate the inadequacy of existing processes, laws and penalties for demolition of significant trees in residential areas.

The first case is the removal of an old eucalypt without Council approval, illustrating the inadequacies of existing fines for such unauthorised activity. In the second case, the removal of a 175-year-old, heritage-listed native Bunya Pine, Council approval existed but the entire process was shrouded in secrecy, illustrating the need for greater transparency in approval for cutting trees.

An old eucalypt in Balwyn North

Case 1 involves a substantial eucalyptus tree in Balwyn North, with a base 1.2 metres in diameter. Boroondara Council had given permission for pruning but NOT demolition. Nevertheless, the tree was demolished during the Christmas break in late 2023, presumably in the hope that the fall of this giant would not be noticed! At the same time, several large gumtrees were cut down in the rear of the property, again without council approval.

Fines for unapproved tree removal are low. Boroondara Council’s maximum penalty is a few thousand dollars, a trivial item in the budget of a property developer. Several local residents have formed a group (Protect Our Boroondara Parks and Trees, POBPT) and liaised with Council about this unapproved tree demolition, and other similar instances in the past.

We are pleased that Council has decided to prosecute the owners and contractor involved in this case in the Magistrates Court. In addition, a process to update the Tree Protection Local Law is underway. These are positive indications of action but will take time and may not be stringent enough to deter property developers. We have also approached State Members of Parliament and received acknowledgement that this is an issue to be addressed. But the clock is ticking – climate change is increasing, and we cannot afford a leisurely debate and small incremental adjustments.

A heritage listed Bunya Pine in Kew

Case 2 centres on a 175-year-old, heritage-listed, healthy Bunya Pine tree that was a highly visible and impressive icon in Kew. Bunya Pines can live to 600 years of age and are important to indigenous Australian culture. They are also threatened in northern areas of Australia by dieback through phytophthora, a fungal-like mould in the soil. Demolishing a healthy specimen is especially obnoxious.

One aspect of this tragedy is that Boroondara Council gave approval for the demolition. However, there was no consultation with the local community, and no formal reason given for the demolition approval. When POBPT learned that the demolition was to proceed, a member appealed to the Council’s CEO to delay the demolition but to no avail. On the day of the demolition a group of 50 residents tried to intervene but were pushed back by police. The demolition proceeded and was reported on Channel Seven News that night. This episode’s secretive approval process is now to be reviewed by Council.

The message from this case is that it is time to have clear arboreal assessments of any request for cutting down a significant tree, with all documentation being made available for open community consultation. Only then can trust in local Council decisions be rebuilt. Our small band of POBPT members will continue investigating tree removals and campaigning for more appropriate processes and legal consequences for those who wish to remove significant trees in our community.

The authors are both retired professors who want to transfer the skills we learnt in our academic careers into campaigns that support the local community in which we live. We are POBPT members.

First published in May 2024 edition of Eastsider News

Putting the ‘Nature’ into Nature Strips

David Berry

Melbourne’s ‘liveability’ is under threat due to the recent ‘Future Homes’ state government legislation which fast-tracks higher density apartment development with dilution of local council planning controls.

Other factors threatening neighbourhood character include an accelerated loss of tree canopy in the suburbs, deficiencies in tree control regulation on private land and loss/occupation of open space due to major infrastructure projects including level crossing removals, North East Link and the Suburban Rail Loop.

Declining open space

These urban pressures will mean a decrease in viable and accessible open space per person in metropolitan Melbourne. Apart from our existing parks, what other open spaces could be planted out with trees and vegetation to produce habitat, plant diversity and biolinks (linkages between parks and open spaces) to help improve the natural character of our neighbourhoods?

The answer is the suburban nature strip and there are thousands of kilometres of nature strips in metropolitan Melbourne.

A nature strip is defined as an area of public land between a road and adjacent owned land but does not include the shoulder of the road or a bicycle path, footpath, or shared path. Nature strips are owned and regulated by local councils but maintained by adjacent landowners.

Most commonly, nature strips are planted out with grass that requires regular mowing. A single street tree may be the only ‘nod’ to biodiversity.

Planting your nature strip

Metropolitan councils manage the street tree programs and have guidelines and permit systems in place to facilitate nature strip plantings. Go to your local government website to find the permit application guidelines for your council.

There are many things a local government authority could do to encourage such plantings. These include creating a network of urban biolinks; establishing an education program coupled with revised planting permit requirements to make it easier for residents to opt into planting their nature strip; and initiating a ‘Nature Strips for Wildlife’ program.

Inducements for residents to plant out their nature strips could include free assessments, advice, and provision of plant vouchers; and annual nature strip sustainability awards for the ‘best established’ and ‘best newly planted’ nature strips. Councils could offer one-off rate reductions for residents who apply to have a street tree planted on their nature strip where no tree currently exists.  They could also offer ongoing rate reductions for nature strips that have been planted out  rate reductions for nature strips containing two or more suitable street trees.

Benefits of nature strip planting

Planting out Melbourne’s nature strips will promote a healthy urban ecology and deliver so many benefits including providing habitat, shade, decreasing ambient temperatures, producing oxygen, removing CO2, saving water, storing carbon, producing less run-off after heavy rain, reducing the ‘heat island’ effect and improving neighbourhood character.

And research clearly demonstrates that greening our streetscapes improves the physical, mental, and economic well-being of residents and passers-by. An added bonus is the traffic-calming effect it has on motorists.

David Berry is member of the Blackburn and District Tree Preservation Society Inc Committee. To find out more about the Society and their work, please click here: https://bdtps.wordpress.com/

First published in May 2024 edition of Eastsider News

Reform of tree regulations is urgent as climate change takes hold

Ian Hundley

There are serious failings in regulation and administration both at state and local government levels which, together, are compromising the recovery

of canopy tree cover in greater Melbourne, and especially in the City of Boroondara.

To read the full article, please click here.

First published in Eastsider News October 2022 edition