Register shoots up

• Councillor Rachel Pemberton with the historic Moreton Bay Fig next to the Greg’s chemist on High Street, which is likely to get on council’s significant tree register if it’s approved. Photo by Steve Grant

IT’S taken a long time to get from seedling to sapling, but Fremantle council’s plans for a significant tree register are starting to blossom.

At this week’s strategic planning and transport committee meeting, councillors voted unanimously to put the new policy out for public comment.

If adopted, the register will make it a prosecutable offence to cut down a  listed tree, and the council will also have the power to refuse development applications where the proponent is proposing to be a bit axe-happy.

Only trees or vegetation on private land will be considered for listing, and only with the consent of the land owner.

Tree canopy

An officer’s report says they’ve tried to balance protection with the difficulties of regulating trees, such as the fact they do eventually die, can have roots extending beyond the boundaries of the property and occasionally get dangerous.

“Within the Western Australian context, protection of vegetation on private property within an urban context is relatively new and has yet to gain common acceptance,” the report says.

It’s not the first time the council’s tried to get a tree register up to counter the diminishing tree canopy in the suburbs.

It called for tree nominations in 2013, but didn’t proceed with a register after deciding none of those suggested were worthy of inclusion.

There are a number of trees on the council’s heritage list, but those that are still standing will be transferred to the new register.

Councillor Rachel Pemberton spearheaded the council’s Green Plan which prompted the renewed interest in a register and says she’s aware it’s not the perfect solution.

“It was interesting because I had heard that some hills councils had good policies in this area, so I asked the officers to looking into it, and when you looked at them they had equally vague policies,” Cr Pemberton said.

But she says part of the problem is that state planning laws are a hindrance rather than a help, which was highlighted at a recent WA Local Government Association workshop looking at proposed new planning laws where a large number of councils raised tree protection as a major issue.

But she’s hopeful that feedback from the community will highlight areas where the policy could be tightened up.

“About 50 per cent of Fremantle’s tree canopy is on private land, and while we don’t want to create too much upset, they have something that is of benefit for us all,” she said.

by STEVE GRANT

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