WHY DOESN’T GLEN EIRA HAVE A SIGNIFICANT TREE REGISTER OR TREE PROTECTION STRATEGY

As more and more properties are being totally or partially cleared of vegetation, the above question is increasingly being asked by residents. Tree Protection is a longstanding issue that residents have consistently flagged as a high priority numerous times over many years and that Council has been working on for just as many years. Yet Glen Eira still lacks both a publicly available Tree Register and a Tree Protection Strategy. Instead Glen Eira relies on Planning Scheme provisions which, without defining “significant”, are only “triggered” when two events coincide, ie. a planning permit is lodged with Council and an inspection of the property identifies “significant” vegetation.   To address this obvious issue, the majority of other Victorian Councils enacted (local law) Tree Registers and Tree Protection Strategies years ago, however, Glen Eira is still working on it and in March 2015 voted* to defer this work until an unspecified time.

Consequently and sadly, this leads us to suspect that the answer to the above question is that Glen Eira Council, despite residents expressed wishes, doesn’t want either a Tree Register or Tree Protection Strategy.

* The vote was a split decision – Crs. Lipshutz, Esakoff, Magee (Mayor), Lobo and Okotel voting for deferral with Crs. Delahunty, Pilling, Sounness and Hyams voting against deferral.  Extract from Council Minutes – 17/3/2015.

So what is and are the implications of establishing both a Tree Register and a Tree Protection Strategy.  When both are combined they result in a Tree protection outcome that is consistent with the principles of good town planning.   Basic definitions are

  • Tree Register is a publicly available list of trees, which includes details of the specimens which have been deemed to be significant. Details usually include species name (botanical and common), tree location, type of location (private or public land), condition and brief statement of significance. Under the Tree Protection Strategy, once designated as significant, or given a “pending review” status, the Tree Protection Strategy and appropriate Planning Scheme Provisions are activated. A tree register is not a static list, it is updated if trees die or require removal and new specimens are identified.
  • Tree Protection Strategy incorporates the rules governing the addition or the removal of trees to/from the tree register. Typical components included in a strategy are:
    • Assessment criteria – many and varied.   For example the City of Kingston’s criteria considers horticultural value, location or context, rarity or localised distribution, age and potential life span, outstanding size, aesthetic values or curious growth form, outstanding examples of their species, cultural or historical significance.
    • Assessment process – from nomination to determination of significance by a panel of arborists and landscapers.   Most Councils have a open to all nomination process, however, past Council Minutes indicate that, since implementation of tree register may create local controversy (neighbour vs. neighbour), Glen Eira Council favours a closed nomination process.
    • Tree maintenance activities that may/may not require a permit, permit requirements and fees
    • Appropriate protection measures to be adopted (reference to Planning Scheme and additional protective measures if, and as, considered appropriate).
    • Availability of tree maintenance advice, provided by Council Arborists, to the custodians (owners) of significant trees on private property.
    • Appropriate penalty clauses.

Readers should also note that establishing a Tree Register and Tree Protection Strategy

  • In combination Tree protection in a manner that is consistent if with good planning principles
  • are an addition to Planning Scheme Provisions, they neither replace nor diminish those provisions
  •     they offer a higher level of protection than the Planning Scheme since permission is required before any action that can damage a classified tree may be undertaken. The protection “trigger” is not restricted to the lodging of a planning permit application on the property where the tree is located.
  •     provides for shared responsibilities for the retention and care of significant trees that span property boundaries
  •     does not preclude arborist site inspections when a planning permit is lodged and the identification of a tree considered worthy of addition to the tree register.
  •     additionally, a tree’s inclusion in a publicly available Tree Register will ensure that if the property is to be re-developed, the retention/protection of identified significant tree/s must be taken into account during the preparation of the proposed development’s plans.

GERA considers this a significant improvement to the current process,

  • which as per the Officers Report, involves significant tree identification and protections occurring after the development’s plans have been lodged with Council.
  • as the Tree Strategy would/should include an orderly and appropriate process for determining if and when significant trees are to be permitted to be removed because of redevelopment requirements. Under the current process, the decision to allow significant tree removal is “discretionary” – with many residents complaining that significant trees located in the growth zones are ”assessed in the same way as the Gum in Neerim Road was”.   Extract from Council Minutes 28/06/2011

“There is one high value tree at the rear of 179 Neerim Road (Manna Gum) according to Council’s Landscape Assessment Officer. This tree is not proposed to be retained and is not protected by a planning scheme control or local law. In any event, the tree in its residential context is considered to be too large for its setting. It is also located on a site identified as being a strategic location for housing diversity. On balance, its removal is considered acceptable. Recommended conditions will require the planting of 7 new advanced canopy trees throughout the site.”

  •  It would also strengthen ResCode’s “defacto tree retention control” mentioned in the Officer’s Report. This control requires that any town planning permit assessment must consider any trees removed within the 12 months prior to application lodgement as still existing.   Given land-banking and/or the elapsed time between contracting to purchase a property and lodging a permit, it does not provide the same disincentive to totally or partially clear a site that a Tree Register and Strategy provides (ie. how do they know what trees were there, goes beyond 12 months plus 1 day).

In addition to the comments made above, we further comment

  • That while we applaud the comment that “is it estimated that over 200 valued trees are protected each year” we are concerned that number cannot be verified and are questioning the planning zone applicable to the location of the 200+ trees. Resident’s report that few significant trees are identified in the growth zones.
  • While again we applaud the comment “that every approved multi unit dwelling proposal has a permit condition which requires a landscape plan to be submitted and approved by Council. The landscape plan process is an opportunity to ensure the planting of well advanced (between 2m to 3m in height when planted) future canopy trees. The landscape plans are prepared by a suitably qualified person and, importantly, signed off by Council’s landscape architect” we are again concerned about the provision of future canopy trees, particularly in the growth zones.

The high density growth zones are the areas which will benefit most from the planting of future canopy trees – come to GERA’s forum tomorrow night to find out why. However, in these zones, most of the developments include boundary to boundary basement car parks with either

  • Minimal soil coverage to service both landscaping plants and canopy trees or
  • The construction of above ground concrete planters for canopy trees

We also have concerns about the enforcement of conditions related to landscaping and the planting of future canopy trees. In the above mentioned instance of a Neerim Road property, soil coverage is minimal and the required 7 (at a minimum of 3.0 metres tall) future canopy tree plantings (4 within the Neerim Road setback and 3 in the South-West Corner) have either not been planted or subsequently died and not been replaced.

To aid the growth of future canopy trees, we urge Council to apply the same set back requirements to basement car parks as are applied to above ground building envelope.

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