Trees and vegetation on the Northern Beaches, even those on private land, are protected under the State Environmental Planning Policy(Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas) 2017 (Vegetation SEPP). The Vegetation SEPP regulates proposed tree and vegetation removal that is not associated with a development application but still requires a permit from Council. However, there’s quite a lot you can do legally if you want to carry out tree work on your own property.
What you can do without Council Permit
You can remove trees without a permit in the following circumstances. The tree is:
Under 5 metres in height
On the Exempt Tree Species List
In an area in which the Council has authorised their removal as part of a hazard reduction program, where that removal is necessary in order to manage risk
Required to be removed under other legislation (including the NSW Rural Fires Act 1997 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979)
Can be removed under the 10/50 Legislation. Some clearing of vegetation is allowed if your property is mapped in the 10/50 entitlement area. Development Application Approval conditions in some circumstances prevent the use of the RFS 10/50 entitlement area from being used.
Removed by Rural Fire Services because they pose or will pose a significant threat to access along required fire trails or to human life, buildings or other property during a bush fire
Placed where the base of the trunk of the tree at ground level, is located within two metres of an existing approved building (not including decks, pergolas, sheds, patios or the like, even if they are attached to a building).
Is considered a high risk/imminent danger certified by a Level 5 qualified arborist. These trees can be removed without Council consent by the owner of the tree subject to the owner obtaining written confirmation from the arborist that clearly states:
a) The arborist qualifications: AQF Level 5 Arborist or equivalent
b) That the tree(s) is declared a ‘high risk’ or is an imminent danger to life and property
c) That immediate removal of the tree(s) is recommended
d) A copy of the report must be sent to Council for record keeping purpose
Any tree listed as a priority weed under the Bio Security Act 2015 and identified in the Greater Sydney Regional Weed Management Plan.
Dead, and not required as the habitat of native animals - photographic evidence recommended
Has fallen or partially fallen as a result of a storm and still present a danger (photos required)
Part of the pruning or removal of hedges (unless hedge is conditioned to be retained in a development consent). “Hedge” means groups of two or more trees that:
(a) are planted (whether in the ground or otherwise) so as to form a hedge, and
(b) rise to a height of at least 2.5 metres (above existing ground level).
Pruning and Clearing
You can prune trees or clear vegetation in the following circumstances:
- Reasonable pruning of up to 10% of a tree's canopy within 12 calendar months. Pruning must be in accordance with Australian Standards AS 4373 – 2007
- The removal of deadwood from a tree
- Removal of any species of parasite mistletoe or parasitic plant from any part of a tree
- It meets the criteria of other legislation eg under 10/50 Legislation some clearing of vegetation is allowed if your property is mapped in the 10/50 entitlement area.
Note: Trees, native vegetation and bushland are protected under Council's Development Control Plan and requires consent to remove or clear understorey vegetation.
What you can do if you have Council Permit
Council may permit to the removal of trees in the following circumstances:
- A qualified arborist report is delivered with all applications to remove significant trees
- Removing unsuitable or hazardous trees
- Removing trees in conflict with built structures where all engineering alternatives have been considered
Pruning and Crowning
Council may permit to:
- Crown-thinning for views, solar, pedestrian or vehicular access
- Maintenance pruning to remove dead, diseased or dying branches
- Selective pruning to remove branches causing conflict, like building encroachment
- Root pruning to reduce damage to built and natural structures
- Pruning for service lines, vehicle sight line and Roads and Maritime Services requirements.
A Permit is Required for the Following:
- Native Vegetation clearing where the vegetation to be cleared is declared in any manner Council’s Development Control Plan (DCP)
- Any tree or native vegetation which is a threatened species, threatened species habitat or is part of an Endangered Ecological Community as defined under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 or Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
- Any tree which is a heritage item or that is within a heritage conservation area as defined by searching the Planning Rules for your address
- Any tree specifically identified to be retained as a condition of development consent for building or works or subdivisions
The current Development Control Plans (DCPs) can be viewed on Councils planning page
What Council will Not Permit
Council will not approve:
- Tree work without signature of owner or their agent on application
- Removing healthy, stable trees or trees for views
- Removing trees for solar access, leaf, fruit or sap drop, bird or bat droppings, or damage to sewer pipes or built structures
- Removing trees for allergies unless they can be medically linked by a specialist doctor
- Removal of trees for fences, footpaths, or driveways
- Removal of trees in bushland or understorey vegetation without a permit
- Removal of trees where they do not meet the criteria of the permit
Pruning, Clearing and Alteration
- Pruning of trees contrary to Australian Standards 4373
- Pruning beyond what a particular species will tolerate, eg figs pruned by more than 10% are predisposed to sunburn
- Requests for topping of trees
- Alteration of soil levels within a tree’s drip line
- Tree work for emotive reasons
How do I get a Permit for Tree Removal, Vegetation Clearing or Pruning
If you would like to prune or remove a tree, first check the exemptions. If the tree is not exempt, you need to complete an application and have the property owners consent. If you wish to be at the property when the Council officer attends a fee will apply. Review Councils fees and charges
If you would like to clear vegetation, first check the exemptions. If the vegetation is not exempt, in the first instance you need to contact Councils Biodiversity & Planning team to discuss the works proposed and permit process. Based on this you will be advised if the proposed works are permissible under the Veg SEPP and relevant Council DCP. If the works are permissible you will be provided with a Vegetation Clearing Application Form. If you wish for a Council officer to attend your property an inspection fee may apply.
What if I have Concerns about a Neighbour's Tree?
Council has no authority to act in disputes between neighbours. It is always best to talk to your neighbours first even if you are only pruning less than 10% of overhanging branches and if the tree needs consent they will need to follow the process above. If your neighbour does not agree to remove or prune a tree, you can contact the Community Justice Centre for mediation assistance. If your neighbour's tree is damaging your property and the above methods have not worked you will need to seek your own legal advice. Further information can be found in the Trees (Disputes between neighbours Act 2006)
Council does not inspect trees for compliant development, you must meet the criteria for compliant development prior to any works being carried out. Instances where a permit or approval is not required are outlined at the top of this page.
Illegal Tree and Native Vegetation Works
Don’t risk being fined for illegal tree works or native vegetation clearing. You could still be charged, even if you’re on your own property. You may simply need a Tree Removal and Tree Pruning Permit. If in any doubt, phone our Tree Management Team on 1300 434 434. For native vegetation clearing matters phone our Biodiversity and Planing team on 1300 434 434.