Developers may soon cop $50,000 fine for killing trees as Nedlands councillors move to save greenery

Article by Jake Dietsch

Source: The West Australian

Developers could cop a fine of up to $50,000 for each poisoned or parched tree under a self-described “heavy-handed” approach by a western suburbs council.

Nedlands council on Tuesday night endorsed a concept forum to investigate tree deaths and find ways to stop further killings, with mayor Fiona Argyle also pushing for any new system to include fines of up to $50,000 per dead tree.

Ms Argyle said there were “several reports of property developers allegedly killing trees”.

“These allegations range from deliberate poisoning to death through lack of water,” she said.

“We cannot determine the cause of death. However, a nature strip is to be returned to the City of Nedlands in the exact same state it was given on loan in a verge permit.

“If a large street tree is killed, I would recommend we deal with such deliberate disrespect with a heavy hand and impose a fine of $50,000 per dead tree.”

Ms Argyle said this policy would “protect our vital tree canopy and penalise rule breakers”.

The mayor said the forum would find ways to protect the city’s tree canopy “either through heavy-handed fines, tree replacement, or watering”.

Ms Argyle told The West Australian the penalties should be “broad-ranging”, regardless of the size of the development.

“If you’ve got a verge or nature strip permit, you should return it the same way you received it. Just like when you rent a home, you return it the same way you took it on,” she said.

“We’ve had the hottest summer on record, so we do have trees that are dying or losing limbs (naturally). But we’ve also noticed when blocks are sold to a new owner, the trees are dying.

“In that transition, they’re not being watered or cared for.”

She said it was “urgent” for the council to engage in the forum to discuss the next step forward.

“We really value our green infrastructure and in the time we live in, our tree canopy is absolutely vital for the wellbeing of our community,” she said.

Ms Argyle said she did not believe heavy fines would deter development.

“We support the right development and people who adhere to the rules. We have to work together to create a greener society,” she said.

The forum will examine a range of factors, including the city’s tree management policies, verge use permits and responsibility for managing trees and ways the city can “issue significant and large fines or prosecute where a tree is deliberately poisoned or unwatered that facilitates the tree’s death”.

Blackburne founder Paul Blackburne said he supported heavy fines for developers and residential homeowners killing trees, but said high-rise in the western suburbs was also key to preserving urban greenery.

“One of the best ways to meet the increasing population needs of Nedlands and desire of locals for apartments and also increase the green open space and trees is to increase height of new residential communities,” Mr Blackburne said.

“More height means the same number of new homes can be accommodated in less area which leaves more space around the new community for green open space and mature trees.”

Mr Blackburne said his company’s recent development of The Grove Residences in neighbouring Claremont was able to give back half the land for open space due to increased height.

“If we had to keep to a low-rise building of six to eight levels instead of the eight to 14 levels we are building, then there would be little or no green open space and mature trees,” he said.

Devwest owner Tony Hatt described fines of up to $50,000 as “ridiculous” and said developers already had to protect trees as part of applications.

“We already need to put temporary fencing to protect trees on site. I think the (proposed) fine is a bit too severe,” Mr Hatt said.

Town planner Daniel Paton said he would “rather see a win-win policy”, which allowed the City and developer to move larger trees to “strategic locations” deemed urban canopy deficient. Mr Paton said the policy could deter development and that any significant policy change could have an “instant impact”.