Tree removal permits, and planning schemes.

In light of recent changes to the Planning Schemes of local councils – specifically involving TREE REMOVAL I thought it was an idea to highlight some of the issues that are likely to arise or already have arisen and maybe flag some concerns I have.

For a long time, I have been hoping to see some consistency across councils and even within specific councils regarding the planning schemes. To say the least they are a mine filed!

Well now I guess I can’t argue that the changes in Whitehorse aren’t consistent.

Every tree over 5 meters with a trunk circumference of 100cm measured at 1 metre above the ground now requires a tree removal permit. There are some exemptions involving dead, dying or dangerous trees, however for the most part the rule is clear and concise.

Firstly, I believe the cost of the permits are excessive. Its $192 for a permit application to remove 1 tree and the same amount again for every tree after that. The council also requires that every permit application is supported by an accompanying arborist report.

So for arguments sake let’s say a resident would like to apply for the removal of 3 x 6 metre trees, this would be $576, with addition they need an arborist report which may cost upwards of $400, the resident is therefor outlaying nearly $1000 to ask the question of the council if they can remove their trees.

This is an enormous amount of money considering that the actual cost of the tree removal has not been factored into these figures yet.

In the case of a property that may have been neglected for a period of time and a site clearance of many 10’s of trees was required this may be a few thousand dollars in tree removal permits really, is this really a viable notion?

So what actions might these excessive costs lead to?…

Two pretty obvious scenarios are that people engage tree workers to cut the trees without permits and run the risk of being caught by the council. This action encourages the use of unqualified, unethical operators that have long been a problem in the Whitehorse area as well as right through Melbourne.

The second scenario might be that the residents may attempt the tree removal process themselves to reduce some of the excessive outlay. Both scenarios are far from ideal and both potentially dangerous. In fact, I don’t recall in 20 years of working in the tree industry in Melbourne, ever being asked so often by residents how they might go about poisoning their trees, a dangerous trend in deed.

The other concern I have as an arborist, tree lover and former resident of Whitehorse is the likely possibility that residents will not plant or replant trees because of future fears that they will have of the costs involved in removal as outlined above.

There is also a risk that trees that are senescent (older aged and potentially declining), or trees which may have other issues and should possibly be removed are left for longer in the landscape due to cost restraints, leading to unmanaged, poor and even dangerous trees in the area for longer. This may lead to an ageing tree population, and due to the lack of re-planting a lack of age diversity in the tree population within Whitehorse.

I am not against the need for permit control and I am not against the permit process, however I think that the excessive costs involved will lead to issues, some I may have mentioned and some that will become more apparent with time.

So where to now you ask?

I recently read in another council’s policy (possibly Boroondara) that once a permit is applied and paid that the council can then make a decision whether the permit is actually warranted. So in retrospect can grant permission for the works, and refund the money. This was the case when we applied to carry out minor pruning on a significant tree. The works were minor, were in the best interest of the tree and its longevity, so council approved the application without the cost.

Another idea would be that there is a fixed fee for the council’s own arborists to do site inspections and make decisions on applications without the need for the arborist report… however this is probably too much of a stretch of council resources.

Another possibility is a generic arborist assessment form that can be filled out by consulting arborists that provides the necessary information to council that takes minimal time and effort and therefor can be provided with a minimal fee, thus helping reduce the cost of the entire process.

If we don’t design a process of applying for tree removal which is affordable then the door is left wide open for abuse of the system.

So at the risk of repetition let me be clear, I am not against the requirement of permits, or the need for suitably qualified arborists to be involved in the process, I just think when the review of these policy changes are undertaken that the biggest factor needing review is cost. If it is not affordable it won’t ever get backed by the community, without community support the changes to the scheme in my opinion are doomed for failure.

There will always be a need for tree removal, however there is an even greater need for tree planting, the last thing we need is for a policy to discourage the latter.