Fears for tree losses as The Hills Council policy is eased

Going out on a limb: Protect Sydney Suburban Trees (pictured) will host a community meeting at Glenhaven Community Centre on August 28, 7.30pm, with a guest speaker from the Nature Conservation Council. Details: psstsyd@gmail.com. Picture: Helen Nezdropa

Going out on a limb: Protect Sydney Suburban Trees (pictured) will host a community meeting at Glenhaven Community Centre on August 28, 7.30pm, with a guest speaker from the Nature Conservation Council. Details: psstsyd@gmail.com. Picture: Helen Nezdropa

HILLS residents have formed an action group to oppose The Hills Council's new guidelines for removing trees on private land.

A Protect Sydney Suburban Trees spokeswoman said they were worried there would be a "tree harm-agedden" when residents realised how many trees they could now remove without permission.

"You can now go to your local hardware shop, buy a small shed, which doesn't need council permission to erect, put it in your backyard anywhere and remove any tree within three metres of it" - — Protect Sydney Suburban Trees spokeswoman

The spokeswoman said when Hornsby Council relaxed its tree policy several years ago, 30 per cent of their mature tree canopy went in a year, something Cameron MacKenzie — the council's group manager of environment and planning — has not denied.

"What's to say it won't happen here," she said.

The council's new Tree Management Guidelines for Trees on Private Land 2014, exempts trees less than six metres high and those within three metres of any approved dwelling or structure from requiring approval to be removed.

MAYOR'S COMMENTS: Click here to read what Mayor Michelle Byrne had to say about the new guidelines.

PSST's spokeswoman worries this could mean "you can now go to your local hardware shop, buy a small shed, which doesn't need council permission to erect, put it in your backyard anywhere and remove any tree within three metres of it without a permit".

The council's new guidelines also take into account extenuating circumstances that affect people trying to manage their homes.

The group wants to know what constitutes extenuating circumstances — a question the Environmental Defenders' Office is now asking the council on behalf of the residents' group.

Councillor Tony Hay wanted the guidelines advertised first before council adopted them.

READ THE REPORT: Click here to read the business paper that came before the council on June 24, 2014. Item-4 deals with tree management.

But the majority of councillors voted to amend the development control plan 2012, which outlines which trees may be removed without development consent, and place it on public exhibition.

Cr Andrew Jefferies said the changes reflected community feedback "that the previous policy lacked flexibility for the residents to effectively prune and manage trees on private land".

‘‘It’s not about trying to create any kind of ‘Tree Harm-agedden’" - — The Hills deputy mayor, Andrew Jefferies

‘‘It’s not about trying to create any kind of ‘Tree Harm-agedden’,’’ he said quoting Cr Yvonne Keane, who agreed with Cr Jefferies that the guidelines would not result in trees being cut down relentlessly across the shire.

The EDO said council’s own report suggested if a distance-based exemption were introduced 37 per cent of the 214 trees for which removal was requested in the January 2014 would not have required an application.

‘‘We understand the 37 per cent is not necessarily inclusive of the 26 per cent of applications which would not be required if the list of exempt species was expanded [by 15 species], as recommended,’’ its spokeswoman said.

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