Australia — A Seaforth backyard has become the latest battleground in a fight raging across the northern beaches about fire protection law.
The 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code allows landowners to legally clear trees from their blocks without a permit.
Stuart Barrie claims the owner of a nearby property used the new state laws, designed to reduce the risk to homes of bushfires, to chop down two large gum trees a fortnight ago.
But Mr Barrie told a Manly Council meeting on Monday that their removal had nothing to do with fire safety.
The sole purpose of removing the trees was to provide a blank canvas for an intended future development application, Mr Barrie alleged.
Councillor Steve Pickering told the meeting there was no more blatant piece of exploitation of this code.
But the owner who chopped down the trees, who did not wish to be named, denied that and said he had acted within the law.
Its a fire risk and Im simply doing it to protect my property, he told the Daily.
I dont have a development application, its a rental property … Im within my rights and within the law.
The Code, which came into force on August 1, allows any homeowner on land with a slope of 18 degrees or less to cut down trees within 10m of their home and clear shrubs up to 50m away, if their home is within 350m of a designated bushfire-prone area.
Bushland at the end of the street means the code applies, even while the home in question is surrounded by other houses.
The code is to be reviewed after 12 months, but Mr Barrie said that would be too late to prevent unnecessary tree removal and wants it suspended and reviewed now.
Manly councillors voted unanimously to contact NSW Premier Mike Baird expressing concern that the code may be used inappropriately.
They also decided to ask the Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, to consider exempting parts of Manly from the code.
Council will also investigate prosecuting anyone who misuses the code and will consider offering ratepayers advice as to whether they are actually allowed to clear their land.
Councillor Candy Bingham said it was just too damn easy to cut down trees.
Their action follows concerns about the risk of excessive land clearance being raised across the northern beaches.
Pittwater Council has already vowed to fight the code and has written to Pittwater state Liberal MP and NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes calling for its unintended consequences to be considered.
A Warringah Council spokeswoman said that several complaints about clearing since the codes introduction had been received.
One key issue for Warringah Council is the potential misuse of the code by people wanting to improve their views, she said.
While Council fully supports the need to keep properties safe, we will continue to work with neighbouring councils and the RFS to amend the code to make sure it is used appropriately and respects the local environment that our residents enjoy.
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said the RFS had said from day one that if there were unintended consequences, the code would be reviewed.
He said RFS officials had already consulted Pittwater and Mosman councils about smaller pockets of bush and whether they should be considered as fire-prone as larger ones.
He also stressed that maps of fire-prone land were compiled by councils, not the RFS, so councils could also look at whether their maps need fine tuning.Its not the intention of and its disappointing to hear that some people might misuse the code, he said.
Before the trees were chopped down. Picture: SUPPLIED
After: Trees missing at Seaforth. Picture: BRADEN FASTIER
Rangers rushed to save this tree from being chopped down. Picture: BRADEN FASTIER
Stumps are all that remains of tall gum trees. Picture: BRADEN FASTIER