EIGHT years after Stirling council committed to increase its tree canopy, the level of greenery has fallen below where it started.
The poor result forced the council to ask developers for suggestions on how to address the issue, given the industry is behind a lot of the felling while clearing blocks for new homes, but they’ve also come up empty handed.
Back in 2014 Stirling vowed to push its 12.9 per cent canopy cover up to 18 per cent by 2030, but three years later it watered down the target date to 2040.
The latest stats show even that’s fast becoming unachievable, with the canopy dropping to 12.2 per cent.
Stirling’s tried to plant new trees but they can’t keep up with the rate of clearing. A “Tree-Friendly mentoring program” that last year invited developers to take classes in how to retain trees didn’t stemmed the losses either.
Stirling also sought “engagement with the development industry”, sending letters to anyone who’d put in three or more building applications asking why they weren’t keeping trees and what incentives might change their minds.
Ten responded out of 137 letters, with comments grouped into themes like “trees cause damage or are not worthy of retention” or “trees impact on the development design”.
Respondents said there was no real incentive for them to keep trees.
A report on the latest canopy figures and the industry feedback will go to councillors next week noting “few suitable incentives were identified”.
Staff have instead suggested reviewing the Tree and Development Policy in the next financial year.
Stirling doesn’t have rules requiring trees be retained during development, and requires just one tree per 500m2 at new developments.
Leisha Jack from the Stirling Urban Tree Network has spent years urging the council to get serious about tree retention.
Two-thirds of tree loss in recent years has been from new residential properties alone, and Ms Jack says letting developers remove trees is like letting them build on dangerous land.
“It is negligent planning; worse than the poor planning that has allowed developers to sell houses on flood planes over east,” Ms Jack says.
“The difference with urban heat is that it kills large numbers of people.”
“Most trees are being removed from privately owned land. The City of Stirling could introduce an effective tree protection law for trees on private land, but the law would have to be approved by the WA Department of Planning.”
The report on the latest drop in canopy goes to a full council meeting on March 22, but Ms Jack isn’t optimistic that proper action will be taken given the council’s historically proven reluctant to impose rules and has preferred to wait for the state to step in.
“When does inaction become negligence?” Ms Jack asks. “If they wait for the Department of Planning to act we will all fry.”
In 2018 the council decided against any sort of mandates on tree retention, instead adopting an aspirational “Urban Forest Plan” that said mandates “may seem like the most effective option available, but it could result in unintended consequences such as preventing landowners from managing their gardens as they wish.”
“Regulation introduced only in the City of Stirling may result in resistance from the building and development industry and could devalue properties with trees.”
by DAVID BELL