Call to establish a significant tree register

Kathy Rice with the Fig outside the Library

Councillor Kathy Rice is concerned that, without a strong tree protection policy, the pace of development in Kiama is resulting in not only the loss of trees but our character. She is renewing her calls for a Significant Tree Register to be established.

“Trees address a lot of positive outcomes for our community that we are perhaps not rating high enough,” says Councillor Rice.

“Amongst other things, they provide shade and reduce heat, have psychological benefits, increase drainage, provide habitat and can play an important role in a wildlife corridor.

“The current Council will vote for tree removal. It is a situation where the individual’s right to do what they want with their land is being considered far more highly than the retention of the benefits that trees provide.”

The issue was highlighted at the August Council Meeting, when two central Kiama developments were approved that will result in the loss of 34 trees.

“I was very concerned at the Council <eeting that we have a worrying situation where the right to intense development is over ruling the tree protection aspects of our DCP,” she says.

“We have a tree protection policy for native vegetation, but it seems in cases like these where they are cutting down the lot it is not being considered.

“The problem is that DCPs have been watered down and developers just treat them as a guideline.”

Chapter 12 of the DCP says: ‘Dwelling houses/additions proposed on the site should be located so as to retain as many significant existing trees on the site as practicable. Where an application for the construction, extension, or alteration of the built upon area of a site involves removal of a tree which, in the opinion of Council is of significance in its own right to the site or to the general area, that application will not be favoured. Consideration should be given by applicants to the relocation or re-design of such proposals on the site, to ensure preservation of the significant tree(s).’

One was the DAs approved was for a 12 unit development at the controversial Thomson St site (where a heritage house was demolished ahead of its formal listing). There a large tree was identified by an arborist back in 2018 as having high priority for retention, but the design of the approved building did not take that into account. The report said no objection to the vegetation removal was expressed by Council’s Landscape Officer.

Another property in Shoalhaven Street, until now with one house, was approved to be subdivided with a dual occupancy on both. The removal of all 15 trees on the block and three street trees was approved.

In this case, the report to Council said, “Council’s Landscape Officer has weighed the issue of vegetation removal v retention of the remaining vegetation in light of the maximum development proposed and, although despondent about the extent of vegetation removal, has advised that in the circumstances the proposal is considered to be satisfactory.”

The report went on to say, “The justification for vegetation removal, in light of the development approval history of the site and based on the current development proposal, is considered to be not a great outcome but one that is reasonable where the development is otherwise consistent with Council’s planning controls, as is generally considered to be the case in this instance.”

At the Meeting, Councillor Rice signalled her concern for the wildlife using the trees for habitat, calling for wildlife rescue people to be present during their removal.

“The importance of functioning habitat trees is not being respected at all.

“No matter how good the landscape plan, it will be years before canopy is established.

A couple of years ago she asked for a Significant Tree Register to be kept, but little has eventuated.

“Landcare Illawarra has offered to help, and I am still waiting for an answer on how we can expedite the cooperation between them and Council,” says Cllr Rice.

“Significant trees maintain the landscape and make it feel like home to us.

“They give a sense of place, by being significant landmarks that have been there all our lives, which are helpful when we get old.

“Generally fig trees would be protected, but there have been some instances where approval has been given for even them to be removed.”

She is calling for others to get behind the need for a Register by contacting her with their nominations.

“Surely there are some trees that most people would recognise as significant.

“Other municipalities have their significant trees listed in the National Trust’s Register.

“With our rich history, we should do the same.”

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