Trees and Local Council

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In Victoria, there are a number of important legal restrictions on tree removal and tree pruning. Even though a tree is growing on your private property it may well be covered by one or more legal protections. You will need to check with your local council to see if you need formal approval to remove or even prune individual trees.

Our qualified arborists can give you advice about relevant laws in your area, and guide you through the council approval process.

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Trees and the Law

Protecting trees and natural habitats in Victoria is the responsibility of both the state government and local councils. At a state level, vegetation protection is managed under the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP), and at a local government level through Vegetation Protection Overlays (VPOs). Currently, 52 out of 82 local councils in Victoria use VPOs.

These laws protect Victoria’s natural resource of mature and significant trees; including single trees, groups of trees, and larger areas of significant vegetation. Established native trees and vegetation are important habitats for local birds and animals. Trees also provide the state with aesthetic and functional resources. For these reasons, a number of state-level overlays are in place including the Environmental Significant Overlay, Significant Landscape Overlay, Heritage Overlays, Erosion Management Overlay and Salinity Management Overlay.

Councils are responsible for the execution of both the VPP and local VPOs, and for administering fines and prosecuting people who break the law.

Local Laws

Councils can also create Local Laws under the Local Government Act 1989, which extend local government powers in relation to vegetation management. Local Laws may cover non-native tree species, trees of significant size (height and girth), existing tree canopies, and trees of outstanding local heritage value. Local Laws may also include a tree register which protects individual trees, including on private property.

Council Permits for Tree Removal and Tree Pruning

Tree removal and some tree pruning works conducted on your property may require a council permit. You can find details about the permit application process on your local council website and by speaking to a qualified local arborist.

When evaluating an application, councils will take into account many factors including the type of tree, the condition and safety status of the tree, the aesthetic implications of the works and the reason for the request. Council will work through all the relevant state and local laws relevant to your request before they can grant approval.

An arborist report by a qualified arborist familiar with your local council laws is an important inclusion in your permit application. This report will include a thorough assessment of the health and condition of the tree including any structural issues, pests and diseases, and other important factors. This will give council all the information it needs to consider your application with all the relevant facts.

Find more about arborist reports here.

Preparing for Bushfire

There are important planning permit exemptions for many Victorian residents, to allow for the management of vegetation for bushfire protection. These exemptions allow for the removal of trees and other plants within a defined distance from homes and other structures such as boundary fences. Download this factsheet from the Department of Environmental and Primary Industries for important information about lawful bushfire protection strategies.

Council Penalties

Council can issue penalties for any unlawful tree removal or tree pruning works conducted without a permit. These can include infringement notices and fines for each breach. Your local council can also seek a conviction and a more substantial fine in the magistrate’s court.