The Tree Preservation Order and Street Tree Plan has recently been modified to encourage the planting of trees on private property, ensure the preservation of significant trees on public property and promote attractive street tree themes across the City.
In February 1997 Council adopted both a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) and Street Tree Plan for Lithgow. Having now been in operation for a reasonable period, certain issues have arisen which need to be addressed in order to satisfy the above objectives. The Tree Preservation Order prohibits the ringbarking, cutting down, lopping, topping, removal or any activity that may result in the demise of any tree greater than four metres in height or a trunk circumference of 300 mm without the consent of Council. The TPO applies to both public and private lands. It has been its application to private lands that has caused the most concern. Landowners have generally objected to what is seen as another imposition on their private property rights.
It has been difficult to enforce, particularly in rural areas that already come under the provisions of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act, 1997. It has been used as a means of getting Council involved in neighbours’ disputes about trees that should be sorted out between the individual parties. This places an unnecessary drain on Council resources. However, of most concern is the apparent attitude that people are afraid to plant trees because they believe that when the tree gets larger, Council will not allow them to remove it. This fear has been reported in other areas and has even been the subject of a story on ‘Burke’s Backyard’.
Amended Street Tree Plan
The Street Tree Plan also required some modification. The issues of concern relate to appropriate responses when a person applies to Council to have a tree removed and where Council, or an individual, is seeking to have a Street Tree Theme established. The plan needed to be amended to establish criteria for consideration when an application is received to remove a street tree. Most requests to remove street trees relate to complaints of private property damage, damage to footpaths and gutters and sewer infiltration. In many cases the damage caused by the tree can be repaired and root barriers installed to alleviate possible future problems. Limited complaints relate to claims that a tree has overhanging branches or is structurally unsafe. A formula does exist to ascertain a monetary value for trees. It is also possible to provide an estimate of the cost of works required as a result of damage caused by a tree and the costs associated with installing root barriers to ensure no further damage. Whilst comparing the value of the tree to the costs of repairs is one way to arrive at a decision it may not take into account the wishes of the local neighbourhood, particularly if those in the neighbourhood would like the tree retained.
Finally, the Street Tree Plan adopts certain criteria for establishing street tree themes. It calls on surveys to establish 70% consensus for type of species and a commitment to community involvement for planting and ongoing maintenance. In reality it has been difficult to gain a consensus on species and even more difficult to gain a commitment to community planting days and ongoing maintenance. Whilst community involvement should be encouraged a fall back position needs to be adopted to ensure that street tree planting does not take place due to lack of interest. It is suggested that the Plan be amended so that if 55% of responses agree on a species then this will be the species planted in the street. Trees will normally be planted in front of all properties unless a property has an existing, good quality street tree. Fertiliser, will be provided to interested residents.
In order to address this issue Council amended the TPO so as not to apply to privately owned lands. It is still important to protect trees on public lands, particularly street trees, and maintain a mechanism to prosecute offenders where the TPO has been breached. An examination of the law reveals that a TPO can be applied to land owned by public authorities and the Crown. The only exemptions appear to apply to forestry lands or trees requiring lopping under overhead power lines. Hazardous trees overhanging public roads may also be removed by a roads authority. However, in practice the assessment of whether the tree requires removal is made under the TPO unless there is immediate danger. Certain limitations also appear to exist with regard to railway undertakings and specific works associated with public utilities.
7 Step Process
A seven step process has been implemented as the criteria for deciding whether to retain or remove a street tree in accordance with the following:
Is the tree unsafe? – If so arrange lopping or removal.
Determine individual and streetscape significance of the tree.
If the tree is in poor condition or is a poor specimen remove and replace.
If the cost of the repairs is less than $2,000 and the tree is significant then retain the tree.
If the repairs are greater than $2,000 – survey the residents.
If 100% of the residents want the tree retained then retain the tree and repair the damage.
If less than 100% consensus, report the matter to Council.
In all but exceptional cases, such as where there are traffic safety implications, any tree removed should be replaced. The Street Tree Plan suggests that any new stock should be 20 to 45 litre stock. It is considered that unless there are exceptional circumstances the specification for new street trees should be upgraded to a minimum of three metres in height that would represent a root ball/pot size of approximately 100 litres depending on species. An appropriate planting specification including hole size and mulching will also be included in the Plan. The Plan will also indicate that root control barriers will be installed if trees are near footpaths and kerbs or private property.