North shore woman fined $83,000 for chopping down neighbour's trees
Advertisement

North shore woman fined $83,000 for chopping down neighbour's trees

A woman on Sydney's north shore must pay $83,000 after she cut down two of her neighbour's trees for "dropping leaves in my pool".

Yueling Liu is one of two Hunters Hill homeowners who together have been ordered to pay more than $150,000 for illegal tree clearing and lopping, in a move welcomed by the local council as a deterrent to others.

Yueling Liu was ordered to pay $83,000 after pleading guilty to illegally removing trees from her neighbour's property.

Yueling Liu was ordered to pay $83,000 after pleading guilty to illegally removing trees from her neighbour's property.

Ms Liu pleaded guilty to hiring a contractor to chop down two native cheese trees without appropriate council approval. She was fined $48,000 and ordered to pay council costs of $35,000 by the Land and Environment Court.

Council workers were called to Ms Liu's large property on Barons Crescent on February 3, 2016, and heard chainsaws operating. The officials found two tree stumps close to the border of Ms Liu's property, but on the neighbour's side.

Advertisement

When they asked Ms Liu what was happening, she gave the officials two different reasons for having the trees removed.

"I wanted to remove the tree and branches because it was dropping leaves into my pool," she said.

She also told the council officials the trees were sparking with electricity in storms, and said: "I wanted to remove some trees."

The court found Ms Liu had applied to the council to remove 10 trees from her property in 2014.

She had also obtained a quote from the contractor who cut down the two cheese trees to remove a "substantially larger number of trees and vegetation".

In his ruling from July 23, Justice Tim Moore said her prior council application and her contractor quote showed her action in removing the cheese trees was "deliberate whilst knowing that consent was required".

The same judge ruled on a separate case in May, ordering a man who had 13 trees illegally lopped on his Pains Road property to pay $75,000.

Michael Carter was ordered to pay $75,000 after he pleaded guilty to illegally lopping 13 trees on his Pains Road property.

Michael Carter was ordered to pay $75,000 after he pleaded guilty to illegally lopping 13 trees on his Pains Road property.Credit:Google Maps

Michael Carter paid a contractor $3350 to lop the trees on December 9, 2015.

The court found Mr Carter was approached by the unknown tree lopping contractor, who said council approval was not needed for the work as the trees were "weeds". The contractor did the work on the same day.

Justice Moore said it was Mr Carter's responsibility to check the contractor's claims with the council before proceeding with any work.

The pruning of the trees was so extensive that three of the trees have since died, and the remaining 10 remain in poor condition.

"There is no doubt, in these circumstances, that there has been actual environmental harm," Justice Moore said.

Mr Carter also pleaded guilty, and did a one-day bush regeneration course to learn about specific fauna and flora desirable in the area.

Hunters Hill Council deputy mayor Ross Williams said the council values the trees in the area, and takes illegal tree lopping or removal seriously.

"It does cause significant environmental harm, and council will pursue those who are reckless and don’t abide by the law," he said.

"There’re very significant penalties for these people, but it does reflect the need for them to respect the law."

Besides the fines and court costs, Mr Williams said both homeowners were ordered to maintain and restore the vegetation.

Ms Liu has to plant two mature cheese trees on her property, while Mr Carter's property will be inspected annually to make sure the remaining trees are growing properly.

"That in itself is a further cost to the guilty party," Mr Williams said.

While it's common for locals to be approached by tree lopping contractors, Mr Williams said homeowners need to do their own due diligence if they wanted to remove or lop trees.

"These two cases are not isolated, we have prosecuted and been successful on numerous occasions," he said.

"It reflects the need for us, as guardians of the community, to make sure that people act lawfully and respect the environment and not harm it."

Rachel Clun is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter with the Brisbane Times and Domain.