Stonnington council set their sights on stronger tree retention

Stonnington council have introduced a new process where developers must enter a deed of protection and provide a bank guarantee to secure the protection of significant trees and vegetation as part of their planning approval. The bank guarantee will apply to trees on the development site, neighbouring sites and nature strip that have the potential to be impacted by buildings and works.

Much like a security deposit the bank guarantee must be paid upfront by the permit holder once the planning permit has been granted. It will be a mandatory requirement as a condition of any planning permit where trees and vegetation are to be retained. The bank guarantee must be put in place before endorsed plans will be issued. The amount forfeited, and the conditions upon which the amount would be forfeited will be outlined in the deed. The council have informed current applicants that the amount of the bank guarantee required ‘is based on an arboricultural formula, which considers factors such as the size, health and structure of a particular tree’. They have not released any details on how much applicants can expect this to cost per tree or how close a proposed retained tree has to be to a proposed building to be considered subject to the protection deed and bank guarantee.

According to Stonnington this new measure will tackle the ‘serious and frustrating issue’ of significant trees being removed or damaged after a permit has been issued. The council have said that it is difficult to ‘reactively address’ this issue and that there are ‘too many instances where permit holders are not adequately protecting vegetation that is to be retained as part of a development approval.” The council hope that these guarantees will achieve “greater pre-emptive protection of vegetation in the future.’ 

Due to the high level of redevelopment there has been a loss of trees across the municipality. The increasing population, housing growth and competition for limited space have all led to the removal of urban trees and vegetation in the area. Therefore the council are now implementing these new measures.

They have said that developers must have high regard for protecting and retaining trees as wells as planting new vegetation as it is ‘often a critical determining factor to the issue of a planning permit’ The new controls seek to implement the Council's Urban Forest Strategy which was adopted in June 2017.

How much will it cost as part of the planning permit approval?

The cost will be assessed on an application by application basis and will be calculated using the Burnley method. This method is a mathematical equation that establishes the dollar amount a tree is worth. It is calculated by multiplying the size of the tree, which is based on the height and canopy spread, by its retail price. It is also multiplied by four different modifiers which all have a specific value. These include tree size, useful life expectancy, form and vigour and location of the tree. For example large trees with a long life expectancy will cost more than smaller trees that are in poor health. The modifiers are used to minimise inconsistences in price depending on who values the tree. The cost will then be stated as part of the condition attached to the planning permit. The applicant must meet all costs associated with drafting and execution of the Deed, including those incurred by the council.

When there are ‘significant trees’ which may be affected by a new development an arborist will be appointed to assess them and establish a tree protection zone. This protection zone is a certain area around a tree that should not be encroached upon in order to protect the tree. In general councils allow developments to encroach on only 10 percent of the tree protection zone. If the development encroaches more than 10 percent then it is up to the applicant to establish how this tree will be protected.  

When will the cost be returned?

Once a period of 12 months has lapsed following the completion of all works at the site the council can release the bank guarantee upon the written request of the developer. The council will first inspect the tree(s) and confirm they have not been detrimentally affected from the build. The deed puts the onus on the permit holder to notify council when the development has been completed and the 12 months has begun. A developer must write to council notifying them that a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued and that the 12 months can commence. A Certificate of Occupancy is issued by a building surveyor to confirm that the completed building work is suitable for occupation. This is a very long time for developers to wait before the guarantee is return and could see the money left with the bank for several years until the development is completed. However this seems to be part of the new stricter line from the council.

Zero Tolerance for planning permits

Stonnington have also stated that they will now have ‘a zero tolerance approach’ to developers who fail to follow the conditions of planning approvals that apply to trees and vegetation.  Warnings will no longer be given to permit holders who fail to comply with conditions relating to tree and vegetation. 

In their Tree Management Approach they state that “Any failure to fully adhere to these requirements will be cause for prosecution.”

If you have an application in the City of Stonnington that maybe affected by these measures please get in touch and we would be happy to provide you more information.

Sophie Thomas works in our Business Support group and has a very strong career background in marketing for business' and customer service. She has very well developed negotiation skills which assist our client's in getting favourable outcomes from other stakeholders. Sophie has previous experience working in local government in her native home in the UK and has a very well developed understanding of the inner workings of local councils.