A new State Environmental Planning Policy has changed the circumstances in which Council approval is required for the removal of trees in urban areas.

The State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas) 2017 commenced on 25 August 2017. The SEPP is part of an extensive overhaul of vegetation clearing laws in NSW and requires a Council permit to clear any vegetation to which the SEPP applies. The SEPP also provides for an appeal to the Land and Environment Court against a Council’s refusal to grant such a permit.

The SEPP applies to vegetation in ‘non-rural’ areas. Non-rural areas are defined as being land in the local government areas in metropolitan Sydney and Newcastle and land within a wide range of specified ‘urban’ zones.

However, the SEPP applies only to vegetation that is declared by a development control plan to be vegetation to which the SEPP applies. Where a development control plan doesn’t contain such a declaration, urban trees in the Council’s area may be unprotected.

There is a savings provisions in clause 26 of the SEPP. This saves the application of vegetation removal provisions in development control plans which were in force at the time the vegetation SEPP commenced.

But there is a catch. If a Council’s development control plan did not prescribe the vegetation to be protected under the former clause 5.9 of the Standard Instrument (and this may be more common than you might think), the new SEPP will simply not apply.

All Councils should therefore check that their development control plan contains a list of vegetation to be protected by the SEPP. Any existing list prepared under the former clause 5.9 of the Standard Instrument will carry over to the SEPP but, if your development control plan doesn’t contain such a list, the trees in your urban areas may be without any legal protection. It goes without saying that, if this is the case, your development control plan should be amended urgently to include a declaration of the vegetation to which the SEPP will apply.