If you want to remove a tree, it's important to find out if your property or tree is protected in some way. A heritage listing restricts the actions you can take and may mean you have to consider more costly alternatives. What's more, if you ignore the heritage listing rules, you could face a hefty fine. If you need to remove a significant tree on a heritage-listed property, learn more about the restrictions you must consider and find out about what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law.
Heritage listing and significant trees
The Tasmanian Heritage Register is a list of places that the local government believes have historic and cultural significance. The Register aims to protect these places from unwanted development that could materially change the appearance and/or value of the property to Tasmania. The Tasmanian Heritage Council looks after the Register, and the Historic Cultural Heritage Act provides the legal governance that underwrites the Register.
Some cities also have a significant tree register. For example, Hobart set up a register in 1982 under the City of Hobart Planning Scheme, and the council now regularly updates the entries. The significant tree register changes each year, and the council accepts applications for new entries. In 2010, people nominated 188 new trees for the register, and 90 of these trees now appear on the register.
What makes a significant tree?
A significant tree register protects specimens for several reasons, including:
- Outstanding aesthetic significance
- A significant component of the natural landscape, historic site, town, park or garden
- Local significance
- Very old or venerable
- Commemorates or acts as reminder for cultural practices, historic events or famous people
The significant tree register doesn't just contain certain species. A relatively common type of tree can appear on the register because it is significant in some other way. As such, you should never assume that it's acceptable to remove a tree just because you can find thousands of similar specimens elsewhere in Tasmania.
Permission to remove trees from your property
In Tasmania, restrictions apply to all types of tree removal. You cannot cut down certain trees without planning approval from the local government. For example, you need to get approval to get rid of any tree that has a trunk circumference greater than 80 cm at 1.5 metres or more above ground level. Similarly, you cannot remove, ring-bark, top, lop or damage any tree that appears on a significant tree register.
The application process for tree removal is generally simple. You'll need to complete an application form that describes where the tree is, what you want to do, and why you need to do the work. The times it takes to get a decision varies according to the council and the nature of the request. It doesn't cost anything to apply, but the council won't pay any of the tree removal costs. The council will always check if the tree is on a heritage-listed property or a significant tree register.
If the tree is unsafe, the council will generally approve your application, but they may ask you to adapt your plans. For example, instead of removing the tree, the council may only allow you to lop and trim the tree. In some cases, a council officer will need to come and inspect the site before you receive a decision.
In other cases, you may not get approval. The council will consider the likely effect of your application according to the reason the specimen appears on the significant tree register or the impact this work could have on the property overall. If you don't have a good reason, your application is likely to fail. It's often worth speaking to an arborist or tree consultant, who can help you present strong evidence to support your application.
Considering your neighbours
It's important to remember that trees on your property can affect your neighbours. People who live near you can object to an application that you make to the council, and Tasmanian residents are often sensitive to the issue of tree removal. In 2014, residents in South Hobart complained when a housing company cut down several gum trees, even though there was no protection in place. Consider how you could adapt your plan to keep everyone happy, and talk to your neighbours first.
If you break the rules, you could face stiff penalties. In Adelaide, South Australia, two developers and a contractor faced $35,000 fines because they removed one significant tree. Similar penalties exist in Tasmania, so take time to complete your research.
Significant trees form a crucial part of Tasmania's heritage and landscape. Talk to an expert like Australian Tree Consultants Pty. Ltd before you remove a tree on your property, or you could face a nasty financial surprise.