Elderly couple's plight revealed as Sutherland Shire Council refines trees policy

Sutherland Shire residents will have more chance of getting troublesome trees removed following refinements to the council's policy.

When removal applications relating to private or council property are refused, it will be made clear residents can appeal to their ward councillors.

If councillors are dissatisfied with decisions, they can ask for a review and even have decisions made at full council meetings.

The trees policy will also be rewritten in Plain English to make the process clearer.

The case of a house in a high-wind area of Kirrawee, which was damaged twice within 15 months by falling branches from a large gum tree, was raised by Cr Barry Collier when the policy was reviewed at the last council meeting.

Noel, 82, and his wife Joan, 81, who asked that their surname not be published, tried since 1996 to have the tree on council land in front of their home removed because of the risk to their property and fears for the safety of children and other residents.

The council could not be convinced despite incidents in August 2017 and December 2018 when large branches fell across power lines smashing roof tiles and causing other damage.

On the second occasion,  Ausgrid shut off the power at 3.30am, fearing a roof fire from damaged electrical wiring.

The council relented after Cr Collier's urgent appeal to acting general manager Manjeet Grewal, and the tree was removed last month.

"The history of this tree is such as to present a clear and present danger," to the couple, nearby residents and the public at large, he wrote.

Cr Collier said he had not intended to criticise council staff, but rather "to illustrate it is important for councillors to get involved and present the 'human side' of the problem and to have that considered alongside the objective and, at times, 'clinical' assessment of the condition of the tree itself".

The couple said it was "a huge relief" when the tree was removed.

"It was causing us so much worry," they said.

"Every time there were strong winds we had to move out of our bedroom at the front of the house.

"A council officer told us it was low risk and there was no way we were going to get it taken out."

Mayor Carmelo Pesce told the council meeting he had parents of young children calling him saying they were afraid for their safety from dangerous trees, but council had rejected their application.

"If people come to me and say they are afraid to walk out their door or let their kids play in the yard, I believe I should represent them," he said.

However Cr Ray Plibersek said making it too easy to remove trees would destroy the shire's green canopy despite replacement programs. "Do you want to live in a treeless desert?" he asked.

Between 2014 and 2017, the council received on average 10,086 applications and requests a year for tree removal inspections.

At present, councillors collectively receive about 90 representations a year from residents.