LEAF IT OUT: Cr Hampton wants a more user-friendly policy.
LEAF IT OUT: Cr Hampton wants a more user-friendly policy.

Bid to ban tree protection order axed, but fee may be pruned

By Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au GORDON MITCHELL used to look out his window at local gum trees and see koalas. Now he just sees trouble.

A tree he once had in his yard grew to an alarming height in the 20 years since it was planted about the time his house was built in the mid-1980s. As it rose, it started dropping branches.

The growth of the housing subdivision around Mr Mitchell means the koalas were long gone. A colony of white ants established their own home in the tree and began making forays into his house.

Clearly it was time for the tree to go.

Unfortunately Lismore City Council, which authorises the removal of adult trees in the city under its tree preservation order, didn’t see it that way.

“They just said it was a perfectly healthy specimen of whatever type of gum tree it was,” Mr Mitchell said.

A few years on and the tree has now gone, but it took two heavy branches hitting and damaging his roof – the second last October, which smashed through the roof cavity and sent water flooding into the house – to convince the council to change its mind.

One of Mr Mitchell’s neighbours, Cr John Hampton, told his colleagues the tree preservation order had gone too far. Apart from the issue of encroaching on the sovereignty of homeowners to manage their properties as they see fit, the order was also prohibitively expensive. It costs $55 each time owners seek permission to remove a tree and $77 if the request was refused and they wanted the decision reconsidered.

As a result, many landowners simply poisoned trees they wanted to remove to get around the tree preservation order, because they did not need permission to get rid of a dead tree.

“If something can be worked out it will reduce the large amount of tree poisoning going on,” he said. “The reason that’s usually given is that the tree was struck by lightning.”

Cr Hampton told the council he wanted staff to prepare a report on how the tree preservation order could be changed to make it more workable and a moratorium be placed on the order on May 1 if the issue was not resolved by then.

There would be no ‘slash and burn’ as Lismore residents rushed out to clear-fell their backyards because people generally liked their trees and only cut them down when they were causing problems, he said.

However, Cr David Tomlinson feared that would be precisely the result of a moratorium on the preservation order. “By bringing in a moratorium it seems you are opening the floodgates for a scorched-earth policy,” he said.

Cr Ros Irwin agreed the charges attached to the tree preservation order had gone too far, noting they had originally been only $10 for a request and saying the council should revert to that figure.

The councillors agreed to drop the moratorium proposal and voted unanimously to have staff prepare a report on how to improve the preservation order and cut its cost for their May 13 meeting.



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