Garry Svensson spent almost $10,000 fighting to get a tree removed so that he could get hisextension built. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Canberra's architects are calling for a review of tree protection legislation in the ACT to avoid unnecessary delays and increased cost to housing projects.
Australian Institute of Architects ACT president Tony Trobe said the difficulties in obtaining approval to cut down regulated trees in private backyards added complications to straightforward home extensions and knock-down rebuilds.
He said more simplified processes for determining which trees should be protected and which could be removed would clear up the complexities owners, architects and builders faced.
''This is not a call for a removal of trees, this is just a call for a better system of assessing them,'' Mr Trobe said. ''Often, in a backyard, people have enormous trees which are inappropriate to the scale and size of their yards … and people are stuck with them and the blocks are almost unusable.
''There are a whole lot of trees that everybody agrees are not particularly significant, even though they might technically meet the code.''
He said one of the major problems was applications for tree removal were not assessed with any consideration given to future development potential of the block.
This meant a tree could not be removed unless it met other criteria including possible damage to the existing house, or presented a risk to public or private safety.
Mr Trobe said home owners could spend thousands of dollars on plans for the development application process only to be prevented from chopping the tree down.
He wants an intermediary body set up to deal with trees in the development context to offer certainty earlier in the planning process.
''I think it would be appropriate to at least consider a review of the way the whole thing's working,'' he said.
Under the Tree Protection Act, homeowners in the ACT must get approval through Territory and Municipal Services' tree protection unit before heavily pruning or removing trees deemed to be ''regulated trees''.
According to TAMS, on average 2000 applications to carry out a ''tree damaging activity'' are made to the unit annually.
Just 1059 out of 2119 applications made in the past financial year were approved.
Regulated trees are defined as trees on leased territory land in established suburbs that are at least 12 metres in height, 1.5 metres in circumference, or 12 metres or more in crown width.
If an application is rejected, a homeowner can apply for a review through the four-person Tree Advisory Panel which reassesses the request and a further appeal is available through the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
A TAMS spokesman said while tree removal approval criteria considered the impact of blocked solar access on the block and neighbouring property, it did not include the future use of the land.
''If trees were approved for removal based on the fact that the future extension of a house is affected by reduced solar access and the development did not proceed, the tree(s) would have been removed from the block for no reason,'' he said.
Wanniassa residents Garry and Robyn Svensson spent close to $8000 removing a regulated golden ash to enable an expansion of their home for their growing family.
The couple had their application to cut down the tree rejected and appealed the decision through ACAT on several grounds including structural damage to the existing home.
Mr Svensson said the fight to get the tree removed had delayed the building work by about a year and the majority of the money had gone into the appeal itself - actually getting the tree cut down cost less than $2000.
The tribunal found the damage the tree had done to the storm water system met one of the criteria for removal approval and overturned the decision.
''We got permission to cut it down on the Monday and it was gone on the Tuesday,'' Mr Svensson said.