Tweed shire councillors will meet with state environment minister Rob Stokes at Kingscliff tomorrow to discuss the government’s controversial new ’10/50’ vegetation clearing rules, slammed for sparking a wave of unecessary culling in the Tweed and across the state.
The culling, in many cases to improve views or facilitate development, has even affected the leafy northern Sydney suburbs where Mr Stokes and other ministers and MPs live.
In response to the wave of complaints in Sydney and elsewhere about the new laws, introduced only four months ago, the government this week tightened the rules which allow the felling of trees up to 10 metres from homes and other vegetation out to 50 metres in bushfire-prone areas, without council approval.
Recent clearing of an endangered littoral rainforest remnant at Fingal Head to make way for development was carried out under the new bushfire-zone clearing laws, sparking a community backlash in which police and senior council officers were called.
The amended rules retain the 10/50-metre permit-free zones, but reduce the area in which the clearing without permission applies. Homes near vegetation deemed to be category-one bushland are only allowed to apply the 10/50 rules if they are within 100 metres of that bushland, rather than 350 metres previously.
Residents near category-two bushland are able to clear trees and vegetation under the 10/50 rules only if they live within 30 metres of the bush, compared with 150 metres under the previous rules.
Conservationists welcomed the changes but say the laws are still flawed and will only slow down the chopping down of landmark and historic trees around the state with no real effect on improving bushfire safety.
Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall told Echonetdaily that chopping trees down under the contentious rules had become ‘serious business’ in Sydney’s northern beaches area, where landowners were making ‘upwards of half a million dollars’ by axing old trees to improve their views.
Fairfax Media reported today that a survey by Lane Cove Council had found that only four of the 216 trees cleared in the area had been done for perceived bushfire protection. Mosman Council reported a similar result: of the 101 trees felled there, 36 per cent were development-related, 29 per cent for nuisance reasons, and 10 per cent for views.
Chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council, Kate Smolski, said abuses of the ‘deeply flawed policy’ would only be slowed by reduction in the buffer and hundreds of landmark trees had already been cut down because of the rule ‘without any meaningful improvement in bushfire risk’.
Ms Smolski told Fairfax Media that the previous system had worked well as it allowed people to have their bushfire risk assessed by professionals from the Rural Fire Service.
Mr Stokes is visiting the north coast where he is meeting today and tomorrow with local councils and making some funding announcements.
Today at Budd Park in Murwillumbah he announced $50,000 funding for trial rock-revetment work to help protect the Tweed estuary from erosion.
Tweed Shire Council will contribute $63,000 to the project.
Mr Stokes said the funding would go towards new stabilisation for a 400-metre section of degraded bank of the Tweed River near Murwillumbah.
‘This project will provide a much needed solution to erosion in the area, without the environmental issues that can often arise,’ Mr Stokes said.
‘Traditional revetment walls can have adverse ecological and amenity impacts and this project has proposed alternative stabilisation solutions to deal with erosion.
‘This includes stock fencing, revegetation and the construction of rock fillets to dissipate wave energy and encourage reed growth in sheltered embayments.’
Ironically, as the minister and councillors chatted in Budd Park, a speedboat towing a wakeboarder at speed passed by on the river.
Wakeboarding and other speedboat activities are being blamed for riverbank erosion there. Gold Coast based waterskiing and wakeboarding enthusiasts have been pushing for years for the river to be opened up to the sport.
Kay Bolton, Fingal Head Coastcare Inc. President,
Fingal Head Coastcare welcomed ‘this acknowledgement that the 10/50 code has been a disaster’.
But president Kay Bolton told Echonetdaily that the rule should be suspended immediately ‘to allow for proper two-way consultation before any revised code is applied’.
‘We believe the 10/50 rule was used by a developer in Fingal Head to remove a critically endangered ecological community because their DA had been refused by the Tweed Shire Council,’ Ms Bolton said.
‘The DA was refused on a Thursday night and the tree removalists arrived to clear this littoral rainforest on the following Monday morning.
‘These changes to the 10/50 rule may not have prevented this loss but it will protect other remnants in Fingal Head and the Tweed.
‘Because of our community concerns about the loss of this critically endangered ecological community, the Environmental Defenders Office commissioned two independent ecologists to report on this clearing under the 10/50 rule.
‘This report will be available tomorrow and it has confirmed that the loss of this remnant of the critically endangered littoral rainforest is of national significance under the federal Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act,’ Ms Bolton said.