Nine months after introducing new rules for tree removal, Sutherland Shire Council is reviewing the policy.
The move comes amid continuing residents’ complaints, doubt over the council’s powers and figures showing approval is being given for more than 100 trees a week to be cut down, with only about 70 new trees planted.
The tree removal policy, agreed to in June last year following months of debate, included immediate acceptance of reports by external arborists which applied internationally recognised Tree Risk Assessment Qualification methodology.
Councillors spent more than 90 minutes at their last meeting revisiting the rules before deciding to have a sub-committee review tree removal on private and public land and report back to the full council by July 9 this year.
A move to approve the removal of two trees in Caringbah South was deferred until a site inspection and consultation with other residents.
A similar request for the removal of a large tree in Gymea Bay due to residents’ concerns was also put off.
General manager Scott Phillips revealed the council’s powers over tree removal could be affected by recent changes to laws relating to the determination of development applications.
Mr Phillips said council’s legal advice was that amendments to the Environmental Protection and Assessment Act were unclear on the functions of a council for the purposes of being a consent authority for tree removal.
“Consequently, there is a question as to whether the power to issue a tree permit falls solely [on] a council officer,” he said.
A staff report to council’s Planning Committee said, in the six months from August 1 last year to February 1 this year, approval was given for the removal of 2723 trees throughout the shire.
Under the council’s tree replacement policy, 4962 trees were required to be planted in their place.
To date, only 1822 new trees had been planted, the report said.
Under the council’s policy, trees that are removed are required to be replaced at a ratio of 4:1 on development sites and 2:1 in other circumstances.
Applicants can pay for replacements to be undertaken by the council at other sites, such as along streets, where 1239 trees were planted under the Green Streets Program
The report said the removal of 1042 trees in the six-months period involved development applications.
A total of 2749 trees were due to be planted in their place, but only 573 had been planted to date.
“Not all sites are inspected”, the report said.
There were 775 private applications, with 398 required to be planted.
The report said the number of replacement trees planted following private applications was “not known”, suggesting inspections were not made.
Removals were also approved for Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and Ausgrid projects.
“Council’s Community Strategic Plan sets a goal of no net canopy loss across the shire,” the report said.
“Providing data on trees being removed and replanted in a numerical way is not the best way to assess the net gain/loss of canopy.
“The canopy of a large tree removed may cover an area of 30 square metres, whereas a replacement tree has virtually no canopy for at least a few years.
“A better way to measure this is spatially via vegetation analysis from aerial photography. The technology now exists to compare images of canopy cover.”