Councils consider ‘name and shame’ lists to curb illegal tree removal

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Fed-up councils in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs are considering publishing “name and shame” registers to deter residents and developers from illegally chopping down trees.

The City of Boroondara told The Age it was investigating whether publishing a public list of prosecutions against illegal tree removal could serve to discourage would-be offenders.

Balwyn North residents outside the home where a tree was illegally felled.Credit: Eddie Jim

“Council has previously published some of its successful prosecutions and is investigating whether it can maintain a list of public prosecutions on its website as an additional deterrent to would-be offenders,” said Boroondara director of urban living Scott Walker.

Councils across Melbourne’s eastern and inner south-eastern suburbs have been dealing with a rise in requests for tree removals as home owners aim to extend their properties, and install pools, decks, and car ports.

But residents have also told The Age how men arrive in small trucks with chainsaws and wood chippers, operating under the cover of darkness to fell trees. Often, “fly by night” contractors were being employed to undertake the illegal work and trees were also being poisoned.

The City of Whitehorse, which includes the suburbs of Blackburn, Box Hill and parts of Balwyn North, has issued 70 infringement notices and launched court proceedings 15 times in the past three years over illegal tree felling.

Whitehorse Mayor Mark Lane said a public register was also an option for his municipality.

“There might be some avenue for that, particularly for repeat offenders,” Lane said.

“We need to understand the privacy requirements before moving ahead with something like a register. That said, I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.”

David Morrison, from the Blackburn and District Tree Preservation Society – one of the oldest environmental groups in Victoria – welcomed the idea of a public register.

David Morrison from the Blackburn and District Tree Preservation Society likes the idea of “naming and shaming” illegal tree fellers.Credit: Eddie Jim

“Name and shame is a good thing and I think the community would support it, and it shows the council is doing its job,” Morrison said. “It also says to developers there are consequences if you take out trees illegally.”

But Morrison, a long-term Blackburn resident, said individual residents who illegally removed a tree should not feature on any register unless they were prosecuted in court.

“It’s the serious offenders, not individual residents that should be on a register,” he said.

Melbourne’s famously leafy east has lost 10 per cent of its tree canopy cover in the past decade, experts say.

Residents argue that the maximum fine for illegally removing trees – currently $3800 under penalties set by the state government – has left councils without the power to increase the fines.

Both Boroondara and Glen Eira councils said they wanted the maximum fine increased.

Boroondara, which includes the suburbs of Glen Iris, Hawthorn and Kew, has asked the state government to raise the maximum fine to $20,000 given the significance and financial value of trees that are removed.

The council said trees could be valued at more than $100,000, depending on the canopy size, which far exceeded the maximum penalty for chopping them down.

The City of Stonnington, which takes in the suburbs of Toorak, Kooyong and Malvern, issued 22 fines totalling $44,000 for illegal tree works over the past year, and 113 fines worth $226,000 over five years.

The state government has said councils already had a “suite” of planning controls at their disposal to stop illegal tree removals.

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