A proposal that would make it easier for landowners to remove trees without council permission has divided Sutherland Shire Council.
Councillor Kent Johns moved that the council amend its current requirements so that a landowner will be able to remove a tee on their land without the need to obtain the council’s consent except for trees that are indigenous to Sutherland Shire or on land comprising a heritage item or with a locally significant or endangered ecological community.
A condition was that the landowner replace each tree removed with not less than two trees on the same property.
“People should be entitled to cut down trees as long as they replace them with new trees on their property,” Cr Johns said.
“I’m sick of people being injured or property being damaged by falling trees,” he said.
But Deputy mayor Peter Scaysbrook said it was the most significant watering down of Sutherland Shire’s environmental policy in decades.
He admitted that the council’s current policies regarding tree preservation are seriously flawed.
“Far too many instances of overly restrictive tree removal policies are causing potential property damage,” he said.
But Cr Scaysbrook said that if Cr John’s motion was adopted there would be no requirement for a landowner to contact, advise or seek permission from the council to remove a tree.
“It is a self-assessment process for the removal of trees,” he said.
“There is no requirement to advise the council that trees have been removed.
“There is no process to ensure that replacement trees are planted.
“There is no penalty for improper removal. Once a tree is removed it is as if it never existed.
“Virtually no-one is aware of what trees are indigenous to Sutherland Shire.”
He said there was no mention of residents in the the proposal.
“Cr Johns refers only to landowners which could be a remote developer who is not living in the shire.”
His concerns were echoed by Cr Ray Plibersek.
“In 2011, four out of five trees applied for by removal application were granted approval,” he said.
“There are 31 species of trees that are currently exempt for protection under the currently Sutherland Shire development control plan,” he said.
“On average 7000 trees are being removed from the shire every year. In 2016, nine out of 10 trees applied for by removal application were granted approval.”
Cr Scaysbrook moved an amendment which put of any decision for two months while an independent report was prepared for the council on the implications of allowing landowners to remove trees on their property without the need to obtain the council’s consent.
Now Cr Johns has put in a rescission motion calling on the council to adopt his original proposal to allow landowners to remove trees on their land without the council’s consent except in certain circumstances.
He was backed by Crs Daniel Nicholls and John Riad.
This means the matter will come back to the next council meeting and if adopted will become council policy.
Cr Johns denied that if adopted the policy would lead to the denuding of Sutherland Shire.
“The shire won’t become a denuded wasteland,” he said.
But Cr Scaysbrook said if it is adopted it would effectively removes the council from any involvement in controlling the removal of trees.