Pittwater Council vows to fight against new ‘radical’ tree-clearing bushfire-prevention code

Pittwater Council vows to fight against new ‘radical’ tree-clearing bushfire-prevention code

05 August 2014

published by www.dailytelegraph.com.au

Australia — The peninsula could lose its most important protected trees and canopy unless new statewide legislation is reversed, according to Pittwater Council.

The council voted on Monday night to fight against a new “radical” vegetation-clearing code designed to stop bushfires.

Councillors unanimously agreed the new 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice would allow some landowners to get rid of trees for the sake of better views under the guise of bushfire safety.

However State Environment Minister Rob Stokes defended the code, saying it was designed “to empower property owners to protect themselves and their homes from bushfire threat, not remove bushland for other purposes”.

The code was prepared by the NSW Rural Fire Service in response to the devastating Blue Mountains bushfires in October 2013.

The new code specifies a zone which covers 55 per cent of Pittwater excluding national parks.

In this zone, landowners can remove any trees within 10m of a dwelling as well as any vegetation less than three metres tall for 50m surrounding a residence.

Mayor Jacqueline Townsend said Pittwater’s trees cut to the heart of the local character.

“This is devastating to say the least,” Cr Townsend said.

“It goes against a large percentage of our community. We’re constantly being lobbied by people saying we’re letting our canopy go and that we need to plant more trees or protect important trees … to see now all these trees disappear despite all the protections we’ve put in place is devastating.

Cr Townsend said there was nothing to stop people from using the code to clear their property for reasons other than bushfire safety.

“It now allows people to cut for views … which we’ve fought for years,” Cr Townsend said.

The code came into force on August 1, and council was told there were technical problems during the consultation process that meant concerns by Pittwater Council were not responded to before the code was adopted.

The code states areas will not be cleared if the land is on a slope of more than 18 degrees or within 10 metres of a prescribed stream.

But Natural Environment and Education Manager Mark Beharrell conceded homeowners would not necessarily know the slope of their land or what constituted a ‘prescribed stream’.

Council agreed with Cr Townsend’s call to “yell from the mountaintops” reaching out to local MP and Environment Minister Rob Stokes, as well as community reference groups and attendees at an upcoming state local government conference.

However Mr Stokes told The Manly Daily the new code was not a free for all.

“These new laws are to ensure lives and property are protected from the threat of bushfire,” Mr Stokes said.

“All tree removal will have to comply with the NSW Rural Fire Service Code of Practice, so the new laws do not provide free reign to clear bushland areas, even in prescribed zones.”

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