Tree law ‘crunch time’ ahead

Brian Congues with residents supporting stricter tree protections on private land. 251002_03 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

The second-stage of Greater Dandenong’s policy to boost its vanishing tree coverage has passed, but thornier decisions remain ahead.

Councillors unanimously approved its urban forest and ‘greening our neighbourhood’ strategies on 27 September.

But proponents are still pushing for the “missing” deferred third stage – a mooted local law requiring permits to remove mature trees on private land.

Private land makes up 73 per cent of the municipality. It is regarded as crucial to increase canopy coverage from a paltry 9 per cent to 15 per cent of the council area by 2028.

The lack of trees, high levels of concrete in private gardens and dark surfaces have made Greater Dandenong the seventh hottest region in Melbourne, a council report stated.

Since 2016, the council area has lost a further 0.9 per cent of canopy since 2016 – down from 9.9 per cent to 9.0 per cent.

Most suburbs except Bangholme and Lyndhurst have reduced tree coverage.

The tree removal permit issue has split councilors in the past.

Opposing councillors have argued for landowners’ rights to manage vegetation on their own land, and without being subject to a costly permit system.

The local law’s “detail” will be crucial, says supportive councillor Sean O’Reilly.

That is, the setting of the minimum tree girth and heights that qualify for protection.

Cr O’Reilly said it would be a “good thing” to add “a small amount of friction” before a property owner removes large trees.

“As residents, we don’t live on our own island. We are responsible to each other.

“People just slapping down concrete without consideration for the environment around them is not a good thing.”

Dandenong resident Brian Congues said without a local law, the strategy would have “no teeth”.

He noted a vast majority of 114 public submissions were in favour of tree removal permits.

“Stage three is the crunch, that is the backbone of the strategy. Without that, they might as well tear it up.”

Acting planning director Brett Jackson told the council meeting that a report on the local law would be discussed with councillors before the end of 2021.

If councillors agree, the statutory process for a local law would start in 2022.