Get active: Help improve Wollongong City Council's draft Tree Management Policy and Development Control Plan

Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) growing well on verges in Mt Pleasant for 40 years+ Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0 (

Oooh it's time to get our active hats on again! We have an important opportunity to comment on some proposed changes to Wollongong City Council's Tree Management Policy, and associated changes to the Development Control Plan (DCP) relating to plants and vegetation. 

This is a key opportunity to ask for more local native species across the entire LGA, including in the urban greening strategy. Indigenous trees are crucial to local biodiversity, help make this city unique, and include many ultra-hardy species that are adaptable to a wide range of environmental contexts and changes. Let's put them first!

Have a read of the documents and have your say before Friday December 16. Here's the Growing Illawarra Natives take - use this how you like in your submission. 


It's great in theory to see a focus on the urban forest over management of individual trees, and efforts to encourage people to grow trees on private land. And it's great to see Council trying to reduce the complexity of tree management on private land, with an accessible and user-friendly Customer Guide. 

The increase in height of trees requiring a permit to remove (from 3m to 5m) is also consistent with the intended focus on increasing canopy cover. Some other Councils, like Sutherland Shire Council, have an approach of allowing people more discretion over trees on their property, while also doing a lot to promote the benefits of urban trees and vegetation.  

Some crucial areas for improvement

Council could do a lot better in using the Tree Management Policy, DCP and Customer Guide to drive ecological and biodiversity benefits. Here's a few points you could use in your submission. 

1. More focus is needed on ecological values, biodiversity and connectivity

Ask Council to do more to prioritise conservation and protection of local biodiversity through its Tree Management Policy, DCP and Customer Guide. 

  • Council Policy and supporting guidance should prioritise local native trees everywhere, not only in areas close to an existing natural area or riparian zone (see Council Business papers Item 4, p.3). The DCP and Tree Management documentation should prioritise growing local native species in every urban context to support the protection, restoration and re-establishment of biodiversity corridors and connections across the LGA.  
  • The Customer Guide should encourage planting of suitable local native trees as the top priority, over the more generic "right tree in the right place" approach mentioned on p.23. 
2. Local natives need to be top priority in the Urban Greening Strategy
Our key observation is that the majority of WCC verge plantings to date are either exotics (e.g. Magnolias) or Australian natives not local to Illawarra (such as Crepe Myrtles or Red Flowering Gums), while the local species planted are dominated by Tuckeroo and the Water Gum 'Luscious' cultivar.  Ask Council to do better! 
  • The Tree Management Policy and the 'palette of tree species' it uses for urban greening (Item 4, p.3) should prioritise (1) local native species where at all possible (2) Australian native species where a local native option is not available and (3) an exotic where literally no other feasible option is available. 
  • Council plans to trial some long-lived and hardy local native species such as Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa, Native Guava (Alectryon subcinereus) and Illawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus) that are already doing well on verges around the region and elsewhere. Ask Council to 'just get on with it' rather than doing yet more testing and trials. 
  • Ask Council to work harder on ensuring that local native trees are available for planting when required. The nursery at Wollongong Botanic Garden produces a wide range of local native species and should should be able to supply these as tube stock for urban greening projects with sufficient (12-18 months) notice.  
  • Ask Council to allow residents to trial selected local native species on their own verges once constraints such as underground pipes etc have been assessed.
    Native Quince (Alectryon subcinereus), a species proposed by WCC for 'trial plantings' although its resilience and adaptability are well known. Why are trials required? Image by Emma Rooksby.
3. Which trees and other vegetation are protected and require a permit to remove needs to be clearer in the Customer Guide
Chapter E17 of the DCP is clear that the definition of 'Declared tree or vegetation' includes a much wider range of trees and vegetation than just 'tree over 5m high or 300mm at its base' (see Item 4, p.22, points 2-5). Properly interpreted, the DCP will protect mapped areas of native vegetation, threatened species habitat and vegetation in riparian zones. Unfortunately the Customer Guide - the crucial document for most people making decisions - doesn't give enough direction as to the full range of declared vegetation. The information on p.19 is general and only mentions trees, not other vegetation, and it refers to 'protected . 

  • The Customer Guide should provide much greater direction regarding 'Declared Trees or Other Vegetation' that require a Council permit to clear. It should make it clear that people need a permit to clear native vegetation, vegetation that provides habitat or likely habitat for threatened species, populations and endangered ecological communities, or vegetation in riparian zones.  This is particularly important because some indigenous tree species that provide vital habitat and biodiversity don't reach 5m in height. 
4. Use 'carrots' (incentives) to make growing local easier for residents 
Allowing residents to remove trees up to 5m, rather than 3m, gives residents more control and ownership. But without the right incentives and education, this may not result in a net increase in either canopy cover or local biodiversity. The 'missing link' is active community education and engagement around (a) benefits of increased canopy cover and (b) the important role of urban forests in providing habitat for local wildlife. Some options that you could recommend include: 
  • Ask Council to provide a free 'local garden consultation' to residents, to help them learn about the ecological communities that would once have grown on their land, choose local species suitable for their property and design a garden to suit them. 
  • Ask Council to provide 2-3 free local tubestock from the WBG Nursery to ratepayers each year, with more plants available to residents in low canopy cover suburbs.   
5. Use innovative 'sticks' (requirements) to increase tree canopy on private land 
One of the key challenges Council faces is increasing canopy cover on private land, which is 75% of the LGA. Pressures on trees on private land are increasing. Current DA conditions such as a requirement to plant 'two for one' on new developments are useless if the new trees can simply be removed by the new owners without a Council permit because they are below the 3m - or proposed 5m - threshold. Alternatives are needed to ensure the new owners actually retain trees planted as a replacement for those removed during development.
  • Ask Council to review the effectiveness of the 'two for one' tree replacement provision on new developments and consider alternatives such as a total canopy target as a percentage of the lot. 
  • Ask Council to consider stipulating minimum tree numbers for each private block based on lot size and/or street frontage. Other Councils take this kind of measure, such as Merri Bek Council in Melbourne. 
Whatever your views, please write to WCC by their deadline of 16 December and ask them to do more to support growing Illawarra natives. There are lots of options to provide feedback here, including an online information session and an online feedback form. Or you could just send an email to Go for it! 
This beautifully maintained Illawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus) is on a quiet street in Lake Heights and appears to be much loved by the property owners.  Does this species require further trial plantings, or is it good to go?? Image by Emma Rooksby.

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