Tree FAQs

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about trees

What are the rules about tree trimming and powerlines?

The law requires both public and private tree assets to be pruned as required to ensure there is a minimum safety clearance between vegetation and powerlines. Ausgrid has an ongoing maintenance program to keep all trees and their branches clear of powerlines and power poles. This helps prevent injury to people and damage to property.

Where a tree on private property is entering the safety clearances of wires in the street, Ausgrid will trim the tree for residents, free of charge, to meet its safety obligations.

Trimming is carried out by qualified contractors who follow Australian Standard AS 4373 – 2007 - Pruning of amenity trees. Each contractor employs a horticulturist and an arborist to monitor standards and ensure that they are maintained.

Trimming or removal of trees near powerlines can be extremely dangerous. If trees are within three metres of powerlines, only vegetation management workers authorised by Ausgrid are permitted to carry out any tree pruning or removal works.

If you have any questions about tree trimming and powerlines, check out the links on Ausgrid's home page for more information or call them on 13 15 35.

What can I do about overhanging branches from neighbouring trees?

The same conditions about pruning and removing trees apply to trees on your neighbour's property as for trees on your property.

If a tree has a branch that overhangs your common boundary, you have a Common Law right to cut the branch back to the property boundary without Council approval only if the tree is not covered by Council's RLEP and/or DCP.

If approval is required to prune the tree, you need to complete an Application for Permit to Prune/Remove Tree(s) form (pdf 40KB).  If possible, your neighbour should co-sign this form or give their authorisation for its lodgement before any neighbouring trees will generally be inspected by a Council tree officer.

Council may give permission to judiciously prune any overhanging branches if the tree's owner is not willing to co-sign the application form.

If a neighbour's tree is overshadowing your house, you could ask them to have the tree thinned so that some filtered light can enter your property.

There are no rules or regulations that can force a property owner not to plant trees that will grow to a large size, unless they are a species of plant declared a noxious weed under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993.

Should you foresee that either the species or number of trees planted by a neighbour will pose a problem for you at some time in the future, you are advised to discuss this with your neighbour.

What about dead, dying or dangerous trees on a neighbouring property?

If your neighbour has a dead or dying tree on their property, you are advised to firstly discuss your concerns with the owner of the property - especially if the property is tenanted as the owner may simply not be aware of the issue.

If a tree is dead, diseased or dying it is exempt from Council's Local Environmental Plan 2012 and Development Control Plan 2013 and may be removed at the owner's discretion. You may wish to make your neighbour aware of this also.

However, if your neighbour refuses to take action to remove/prune the tree to make it safe and the tree poses an imminent danger to persons and/or property, Council can serve notice on the property owner to remove any such tree. Contact us so that the matter may be referred to a Council tree officer for investigation.

Who pays for the pruning or removal of nuisance trees on neighbouring properties?

If your neighbour agrees to having a tree pruned or removed, but does not want to pay for it, you and your neighbour may have to reach an agreement. Any disagreement as to the extent of any pruning works and/or who will pay for those works is a private matter which has to be resolved between the owner of the tree and any affected neighbour/s.

What if neighbouring tree issues cannot be resolved?

Where agreement is not able to be reached in matters involving property overhang, nuisance trees or hedges, affected parties are urged to contact the Community Justice Centre so that mediation may be arranged. You can visit the Community Justice Centre website or call them on 1800 990 777.

Should any problems associated with neighbouring trees be unable to be resolved through mediation, then as a last resort you may wish to consider legal action under the provisions of the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006.

This involves applying to the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales to have it adjudicate in the matter and, if appropriate, serve the owner of the tree/s with an Order to abate any nuisance/damage. This should only ever be seen as a last resort and the Court will only deliberate if it can be shown that all other options have been exhausted.

Anyone considering action under this legislation should visit the Land and Environment Court website and then click onto the Trees and Hedges link.

What about tree roots in sewer pipes?

Tree roots generally don't invade sewerage pipes unless those pipes are leaking and water is seeping into the surrounding soil. Tree roots are opportunistic by nature and will always seek out water and nutrients.

Most old sewer pipes (usually terracotta) throughout the City of Randwick are at least fifty years or more in age and will inevitably start leaking at some time. This is usually the time when tree roots will penetrate into a sewerage network.

This problem can easily be resolved by the replacement of old terracotta pipes with modern PVC plastic pipes. Sewerage pipe maintenance should be a part of overall property maintenance and should take place when pipes show the first signs of leakage or tree root intrusion.

People sometimes mistakenly believe that simply removing a tree growing near a sewer blockage will fix the problem, but this is often not the case. The overriding consideration should always be to treat the cause (pipes), not the symptom (tree roots)!

What qualifications should a tree contractor have?

Work undertaken by inappropriately qualified contractors could result in major damage to yours or a neighbour's property or in injury to people and may leave you liable for any costs associated with this. WorkCover NSW recommends that for tree work carried out at ground level a minimum of one person holds the qualification of Certificate II in Horticulture (Arboriculture).

All tree climbing work should be directly carried out or supervised by a person with a minimum qualification of Certificate III in Horticulture (Arboriculture). These qualifications are consistent with the requirements of Australian Standard AS 4373 - 2007 – Pruning of amenity trees.

Two industry associations - the Tree Contractors' Association of Australia and Arboriculture Australia - may be able to assist you in making an informed choice.

What insurances should a tree contractor have?

The contractor should hold a current workers' compensation insurance policy for their employees. The contractor should also hold a current public liability insurance policy. These insurance policies provide protection for you in the case of damage being caused to your property, a neighbour's property or people being injured while the work is being carried out.

The Certificate of Currency for workers' compensation insurance should be sighted and included with the job quote. In the employer's information section, check the legal name, trading name, ABN, against the company details on the quote. The WIC code must be 95250. The Certificate of Currency must be no more than twelve months old.

How do I know if the contractor is going to do the job safely?

You should obtain a written quote from the contractor that contains their contact details and ABN. All tree work should be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the WorkCover Code of Practice: Amenity Tree Industry 1998. The contractor should be able to explain to you what measures they will be taking to ensure the safety of people who may be affected by the work, such as neighbours and people walking or driving past where the work is being carried out.

If the work is being carried out near power lines the contractor must maintain a safe distance from the power lines or be an accredited person to work within what are known as approach distances. If work is being carried out on a tree that is within three (3) metres of any powerline then the person carrying out the work must be an accredited person who has completed a recognised course of training and the contractor should be able to explain this to you and provide evidence of any accreditation they have.

How can I help make sure the job is done safely?

At all times you should ensure that you or other people remain outside the danger areas identified by the contractor. Failure to follow the contractor's instructions could result in injury to yourself or tree workers. Reputable contractors will check for hazards prior to commencing work. If, however, you are aware of any dangers on your property that could cause harm, you should advise the contractor. These could be underground services such as gas, electricity or plumbing near the trees.

How do I get further information on tree work safety?

You can download a copy of the WorkCover Code of Practice: Amenity Tree Industry 1998 from the WorkCover NSW website or call them on 13 10 50 and ask them to send you a copy.

Contact the following organisations for further information:

What should be included in an arborist's report?

The following information is required in the preparation of tree reports to accompany applications made in relation to the preservation of trees and vegetation within the Randwick City area - including Development Applications for Tree Works (pdf 73KB).

A comprehensive report prepared by an appropriately qualified and experienced arborist [minimum accepted qualification - AQF Certificate IV in Horticulture (Arboriculture)] will enable Council's assessment process to be dealt with in a comprehensive and timely manner.

The following matters must be addressed in any arborist's report:

  • Who commissioned the report
  • Why the report was commissioned
  • What the report examines
  • The address of the site containing the trees
  • The methods or techniques used in the inspection
  • An overview or synopsis of the inspection
  • The date of the inspection
  • A map of the site showing the location of the trees and the trees numbered to correspond with the text
  • For each tree give the scientific name, common name, heights, canopy spread, trunk diameter at one (1) metre above ground level and form
  • A discussion of the data collected - this may include detailed information regarding wounds, cavities, cracks, splits, forking, root zone, pests and diseases, hollows for wildlife (if appropriate) and a Tree Hazard Assessment (if appropriate)
  • Supporting evidence such as photographs where appropriate
  • Do not list references unless they are referred to in the report
  • Do not include data unless it is used in the report to lend weight to a contentious issue
  • A discussion of all the options available - why they are recommended or why they are not recommended – e.g. can the building or structure be repaired and the tree retained?
  • A recommendation as to the preferred option and the reasons therefore - including proposed replacement plantings, landscaping and/or soil remediation
  • Tree protection measures and post-construction tree maintenance program which can be used as development conditions should they be necessary
  • Comprehensive Resistograph or Picus Sonic Tomograph report on designated tree/s where requested by Council

The report must also contain the name, address and telephone number of the person or company carrying out the report, as well as their professional qualifications and experience in the arboricultural industry.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other site considerations necessary to ensure adequate information is supplied to Council.

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