Concerns mount over 10/50 legislation

Why are councils getting so emotional about it?

Picture from Black Saturday Bushfires

The new 10/50 legislation is all about reducing fire danger around property in high fire danger areas giving owners the ability to clear the land without first seeking permission, but are people simply using these new powers to clear unsightly trees, forever changing the area?

Update 30th Sept – 10/50 Vegetation clearing entitlement changed

Many people remember the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in Februay 2009. The Black Saturday Bushfires killed 173 people, injured 414 people, destroyed 2,100 homes and displaced 7,562 people. And in October 2013, 1,157 bushfires burnt across NSW. One of things that we have learned about bushfires is that preparation is very important.

To give it its proper name, the Rural Fires Amendment (Vegetation Clearing) Bill 2014 was announced in November 2013 and came in to power in July 2014. Under the rules home owners adjacent to and those in close proximity to bushland will not need to get permission to clear trees within 10 metres of their homes, on their own land. They will be able to clear undergrowth and shrubs within 50 metres of their homes, on their own land.

“This will need to be done in an environmentally responsible manner but our changes will ensure the rules regarding hazard reduction are based on protecting lives and property – people before trees is the priority,” Minister Hazzard said.

So why are councils getting so emotional about these new regulations? Hornsby Shire, Ku-ring-gai and Willoughby councils are all areas which have portions of land which are classified as high fire danger, why not let people self-assess and clear their property if required?

Ku-ring-gai council released a statement recently which said that they will make “urgent representations to the Minister for Emergency Services and the Minister of Environment on the excessive extent of the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Entitlement Area and the potential impacts of the draft code on the character of Ku-ring-gai and irrevocable environmental damage.” Why? Mayor Jennifer Anderson said “We have over 200 reports of native trees being chopped down in just a few weeks since the law came into effect. And these are only the ones we know about.”

The issue appears to be that people are using this legislation to clear trees on the property for reasons other than bush fire protection. There are reports of people using this legislation to clear trees to “improve their view” or to eliminate branches and leaves falling in to back yard swimming pools.

Willoughby Mayor, Gail Giles-Gidney said “Our community is very concerned about the impact this may have on our City. Willoughby is home to many unique and historic trees that add to the character of local neighbourhoods.  We are now at risk of losing this heritage.”

Willoughby Council have been vocal on this matter, in a recent report  Julie Whitefield and Megan Covey stated:

“The 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice raises serious concerns for the ecological and visual amenity of the Willoughby LGA. The Code undermines Council’s planning instruments and State legislation in regard to the protection of urban bushland.”

What can you do?

If you are in a bush fire prone area which comes under 10/50 regulation you may be able to clear trees and vegetation on your property. To do so, you must be fully cognisant of 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice for New South Wales prepared by the the Rural Fire Service. If in doubt, contact your local NSW Rural Fire Service Fire Control Centre.

If you live in Ku-ring-gai, council and the RFS will host a drop-in session regarding bush fire planning on Sunday September 28th between 10:00am and 2:00pm at the Gordon Library.

If you believe the 10/50 legislation should be altered, or an exception be put in place for your local area, tell your local councillor.

Further Information

All residents should be prepared for bushfires, but there are many alternatives to the simply implementing the 10/50 code of practice. There are two key resources in the area that you should consult: You local council and the Rural Fire Service. Both groups have excellent information and a willingness to help local residents.

Much has be written about the legislation, but these are some good reference documents:

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to clear my property, if I am in a 10/50 zone? No. It is an entitlement to clear, not a requirement.

Where can I find more information? The Rural Fire Service has released a series of questions and answers.

How do I know if I am in a 10/50 area? The Rural Fire Service has developed an online tool to self-assess if the property you own is within an area where these regulations apply.

What is a tree? Under these rules, a tree is a plant having a single stem or trunk of more than 30 cm diameter at chest height and a total height of not less than 3 meters. That stem or trunk must be within 10 metres of a building.

What is a building? This 10/50 Code applies to vegetation adjacent to external walls of a building containing habitable rooms that comprises, or is part of, residential accommodation or a high-risk facility.

What land can be cleared? Under this program, you must have the permission of the landowner to clear vegetation. It is not permissible to clear any land without the owner’s consent.

What about threatened species of plants? You should consider whether your actions will impact any threatened species of plant. As such, you need to be aware that clearing in accordance with the 10/50 Code of Practice does not provide you with an approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) because state laws cannot override Commonwealth laws. If in doubt, consult your local council.

Can I prune my neighbours tree? No. You may not clear neighbouring property without that property owner’s consent. If a neighbouring tree overhangs your property and it comes within 10 metres of your building, you may be allowed to prune the tree. However, pruning of trees must be in accordance with AS 4373-2007 Pruning of amenity trees. In particular, you must consider balancing the tree should you consider pruning.

Can I clear trees on a vacant block where I plan to build? No. The 10/50 legislation does not apply to vacant blocks.

About Mike Coles 354 Articles
As publisher and chief content contributor to The Kuringai Examiner, I have an interest in all things on the North Shore, particularly news, sport and food. I'm always on the outlook for something unique and original to bring to my readers.