FUTURE heat waves may be even more unbearable with fewer trees on verges now that Bayswater council’s gutted its tree protection policy.
A split council voted in favour of making it easier for residents to get verge trees removed and harder for the council to plant new ones.
Under the old policy the city would not remove a tree if “the tree is believed to be affecting personal health”, since it was wide open for residents to claim a tree was giving them allergies or stressing them out, and they had no way to determine if one tree was causing allergies given the wind blows pollen long distances.
That’s been scrapped and now believing there’s health impacts is grounds for a tree to be felled.
And a previous policy that street trees wouldn’t be pruned on the grounds that nearby property owners disliked its “appearance or aesthetics” has also been deleted.
And the old approach to plant one tree on the verge outside each property has been hamstrung: Previously the council would sent out letters advising of upcoming planting, and would go ahead unless a property owner opted out.
It’s switched to an opt-in system and now the council will need to actively obtain owner approval before planting verge trees, which council staff warned would lead to a big drop in uptake.
Cr Elli Petersen-Pik opposed the changes, saying the shift to opt-in verge plantings in particular will make it very hard for the city to meet its target to expand the tree canopy coverage.
“It also goes against our ongoing attempts to improve streetscapes and shade our footpaths to protect pedestrians and cyclists from the sun, and encourage more people to choose sustainable transport modes,” he said.
He cited council staff estimates that pruning verge trees just because an adjacent property owner doesn’t like the aesthetics or leaf drop would cost
$200,000 a year on the conservative end, and many more cases would have to be referred to council for a call over what’s a “reasonable” pruning.
The new rules also take a kid-gloves approach towards tree vandals as council will no longer report cases to WA Police.
Council staff provided three pages of concerns about the implications of the policy changes, but the new rules were voted through by mayor Filomena Piffaretti and supporters Catherine Ehrhardt, Josh Eveson, Assunta Meleca, Steven Ostaszewskyj and Michelle Sutherland. Against the changes were Cr Petersen-Pik, Dan Bull, Giorgia Johnson and Sally Palmer.
In an online newsletter Cr Piffaretti said the tree policy changes were delivering on an election commitment.
“I made a promise during the election that if I, along with my colleague Josh Eveson were elected to council, we would bring back a common-sense approach to tree maintenance and that’s what we’ve done.
“After listening to the community, your new council adopted a practical policy allowing residents to request that trees on their verge be pruned or removed particularly where residents health or safety is concerned.”
Cr Eveson chairs the policy committee that came up with the changes and after the vote he posted on social media saying “my motion applied common sense changes to the city’s Urban Tree Policy”.
by DAVID BELL