Ku-ring-gai Council wants bigger fines for illegal tree lopping

“I’m told by arborists that there are people who will simply pay that as the cost of removing the tree,” Lennon said.

Some trees that are endangered or heritage listed have “protected” status. The maximum penalty for the removal of a protected tree without council permission is $110,000. If a case goes to the Land and Environment Court the maximum fine is $1.1 million.

Hornsby Shire Council had the greatest tree canopy cover in Sydney at 78.6 per cent in 2020.

Hornsby Shire Council had the greatest tree canopy cover in Sydney at 78.6 per cent in 2020.Credit:Nick Moir

“I think the council should certainly pursue prosecution wherever the evidence allows it,” said Lennon, although the councilors note that removing a tree without approval is technically a criminal act, so a criminal burden of proof is required to prosecute successfully.

That’s one of the reasons the councilors would like to “enhance current measures for pursuing investigations” of tree destruction.

Ku-ring-gai Council will return to the Land and Environment Court in coming months to continue an eight-year tree felling stoush.

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A conviction for Killara resident John David Chia was overturned last August after he was found guilty in 2020 of ordering arborists to cut down 74 trees surrounding a Roseville property, which he sold for $2.9 million in 2017. Chia didn’t seek council permission for the felling and the majority of the trees were on a neighboring Crown reserve or land owned by Roseville Golf Club.

Chia was fined $40,000 by the NSW Land and Environment Court and the arborist who carried out the work was charged $16,000, the amount he was paid for the job.

A new trial has been ordered, but a date hasn’t been set.

In the City of Sydney, residents must seek council approval for removing trees from their property, excluding exempt species. Those who live in areas covered by the 10/50 vegetation clearing rule to reduce fire risk may not need council approval for clearing.

“Trees are the lungs of the city,” Lennon said. And [Ku-ring-gai] is an area where people live because they value the natural environment. It’s important to our quality of life.”

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