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Greening the Nation’s Capital - the proposed Urban Forest Bill – what will it change?

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The ACT Government has released its proposed Urban Forest Bill 2022 (“Bill”) for consultation. Consultation closes on 2 June 2022 and submissions can be uploaded through the ACT Government website.

If passed, the Bill will repeal and replace the Tree Protection Act 2005 (ACT) (“Current Act”). It will keep and expand on the main elements of the current Act while at the same time introducing key changes to assist with the implementation of the ACT Urban Forest Strategy 2021-2045, which, among other goals, seeks to achieve 30% tree canopy cover by 2045 (current tree canopy cover is around 19%).

5 Main Changes

There are five main changes that the Government is proposing to make through the Bill:

1. All trees on public land will be regulated

The Bill proposes that all trees on public land will now be regulated regardless of their size.  It is assumed that existing trees on land the subject of the grant of new crown leases will not be caught by this new categorisation.

2. More trees on private land will be regulated

More trees on private land will be regulated. Trees on private land will be covered by the Bill if they are:

  • over 8 metres tall;
  • have a canopy width of over 8 metres; and/or
  • have a trunk circumference of over 1 metre at 1.4 metres above natural ground level.

The Current Act covers trees over 12 metres tall, or with a canopy width of over 12 metres.

3. Canopy Contribution Framework

A new Canopy Contribution Framework (“Framework”) will be introduced. The Framework will require that when regulated trees are approved for removal, they will need to be replaced through new planting. This new planting will usually need to take place on the property that the trees will be removed from.

If the new planting is not possible or only partially possible, then a financial contribution will need to be made, as determined by a tree valuation formula.

4. Tree Valuation Formula

For homeowners seeking to remove a tree from their primary residence, a fixed replanting requirement will mean that two new trees must be planted for every one tree removed. Where tree planting is not suitable, they will need to contribute $600 per tree that they cannot replant, or $1,200 if they do not replant any.

For property developers, the new planting requirement or the financial contribution will depend on the size and location of the tree that they are seeking to remove. It will also increase depending on the zoning of the land that the tree is located on. Tree removal in higher density areas will require more replanting or a higher financial contribution.

The ACT Government has released a table showing the average financial contribution per tree based on zoning:

Zone
Average financial contribution per tree
Example uses 2

PRZ1, CFZ

$2,140.00

PRZ2, TSZ1, TSZ2

$4,280.00

RZ1, CZ6

$6,420.00

RZ2, IZ1, IZ2

$8,560.00

RZ3, CZ4

$10,700.00

RZ4, CZ2, CZ3

$12,840.00

RZ5, CZ1, CZ5

$14,980.00

5. Tree Bond System

A tree bond system will be established to protect trees that have the potential to be damaged by nearby development, by placing a financial value on the trees to be paid as a bond. Bonds will apply if a Tree Management Plan or a public land permit is submitted and approved. They will apply to both public and private trees.

Unless a breach is identified, the bond will be returned between 1 and 3 years after the construction concludes, following an inspection from a tree protection officer.

The minimum bond amount will be the value of the tree or $3,000.00, whichever is greater. The maximum bond amount will be 3 times the tree value, for exceptional trees and trees at a high risk of damage.

Conclusion

The new law will expand the number of protected trees in the ACT.  Developers and land owners will need to be more mindful of how their development proposals will impact the trees on their crown lease and on adjacent unleased crown land.  The protection of existing trees will have a greater focus and the impact of not protecting regulated tress will incur greater penalties.  It will be interesting to see if the Conservator takes a sterner view of the removal of trees when assessing development applications and tree management plans. 

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