The Eastern Suburbs Council introduces a tree cover quota to stop over-development

Jarvis said established gardens, and often historic trees, are “sacrificed to satisfy developers’ for-profit motives.”

The greening rules aim to preserve green residential areas and “stop the concrete wall-to-wall development that has occurred recently,” she said.

Jarvis said the new rules also require the planting of mature trees: “Essentially, throwing in some camellia bushes and cycads will no longer meet the requirements.”

Councilman Merrill Witt said the developers used sophisticated urban planning measures to argue for non-compliant development. “The approval of these types of applications sets a bad precedent and, over time, will lead to an erosion of development standards, loss of local character and tree cover.”

Witt said she hopes the greening rules will be extended to medium-density zones, as many single-family homes in the eastern suburbs have been replaced by apartment buildings over the past decade.

“Usually when the houses go away, most of the garden area goes too,” she said. “The increase in hard surfaces is putting pressure on council stormwater runoff and amplifying the heat island effect, particularly in areas not as close to the port.”


Other communities such as Northern Beaches, Mosman, The Hills Shire and Ku-ring-gai require an even larger percentage of private land for landscaping in some areas. Ku-ring-gai also requires that development sites have a minimum number of tall trees that can reach a mature height of 13 meters or more.

Sebastian Pfautsch, associate professor of urban planning and management at Western Sydney University, said trees on private property were disappearing faster than on public land.

“I think increasing the canopy isn’t as easy as it looks, but there could be great alternatives, such as green roof and green wall regulations,” he said.

However, Pfautsch said the council’s target of increasing overall canopy to 30 percent is tenuous – especially when the New South Wales government has an overall target of 40 percent canopy coverage by 2036.

The loss of trees for road improvements, new cycle lanes and large property developments has angered residents across Sydney, while councilors have also complained that laws are failing to prevent illegal tree felling.

Tom Forrest, chief executive of the Urban Taskforce, said the new planning rules would prevent increased housing density in Sydney’s eastern suburbs “and a cynic might suspect that’s exactly the intention”.

Forrest said the greening rules would negatively impact housing supply because it would make it impossible to demolish existing buildings “no matter how outdated or unusable they may be.”

He said the council should buy land for parks and public green spaces and “not enact new regulations that impede the housing supply in an area that, despite strong demand, has produced only a negligible stock of new housing”.

Estelle Grech, the committee’s head of planning policy for Sydney, said there was “wide disparity” in the city’s urban canopy, with the green north being 40 per cent covered, while east Sydney had 15 per cent and west Sydney 16 per cent.


Soil depth controls have been a tried and true technique for giving trees room to grow and mature, but Grech said, “We shouldn’t weaponize trees when it comes to development.”

“They should not be used as a cover for anti-development sentiment, just as they should not be on the chopping block in pro-development circumstances,” she said.

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Justin Scaccy

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