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Trees – do you need Council approval to cut, trim or remove?

Wondering whether you need Council approval to remove or lop trees?  It depends…..

We have had many a frustrated client come to us to assist them through the different rules surrounding when a tree (or other significant vegetation) may be lopped, topped, cut down, removed or otherwise.

The main framework within which an owner of a property may operate is typically found within the Local Environmental Plan for the area or by reference to a planning certificate which will state whether there is a tree preservation order in place.

Some Councils provide a helpful checklist to determine whether a permit is required to be obtained prior to cutting a tree (or seeking to reduce it in some way) or whether development consent is required.  As a general comment, development consent is typically required to be obtained when an owner wishes to remove a tree to erect a new dwelling.  In some cases (again, will vary across Councils), the tree removal is to form part of the DA for the erection of the house.

Exemptions do apply, typically if a tree is dying or dead, whether it may be a risk to human life or property and whether it is for the purposes of vegetation management (e.g. emergency fire fighting).

Further, some Councils will provide guidelines about what is covered by certain definitions.  A vexed definition is often around what constitutes ‘pruning’.  As noted in one Council’s fact sheet on how to determine whether council approval is required to remove or lop trees: “as every gardener knows, one person’s idea of ‘pruning’ is another’s idea of vandalism‘”.

What happens if a tree is lopped, topped, cut down, removed or dealt with in a way that contravenes the legal framework?  A Council may issue a penalty notice or take legal action against the property owner under the Environmental and Planning Assessment Act.

The main message is if in doubt, review the applicable LEP and supporting material, seek advice and if necessary, retain the services of an arborist about these matters.