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Pruning and removing trees

Pruning and removing trees

Permission is required

If you want to prune or remove a tree from your residential or business property, you will need permission from the City of Sydney. Our tree management polices are based on protecting individual trees and the city’s urban forest.

Laws about pruning and removing trees on private property (and City property) come under tree management controls, which can be downloaded at the end of this page.

Any tree, whether a native or exotic species, is covered by the controls if it:

  • has a height of 5m or more
  • has a canopy spread of over 5m
  • has a trunk diameter of more than 300mm, measured at ground level
  • is listed in the Register of Significant Trees.

Some exemptions do apply depending on the tree species, condition of the tree, or type of pruning required. These are outlined in tree management controls exemptions, available for download at the end of this page.

There are serious penalties for breaching the management controls. The maximum fine in the Land and Environment Court is $1.1 million.

Exemptions

Some exemptions apply to remove or prune some species of trees. The following tree species can be removed or pruned without City permission unless the specific tree is listed in the City's Register of Significant Trees:

  • Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven)
  • Bamboo sp (all species and cultivars)
  • Citrus sp (all varieties)
  • Cotoneaster sp (Cotoneaster)
  • Ficus elastica (Rubber Tree)
  • Gleditsia triacanthos – not cultivars (Wild Honey Locust)
  • Lagunaria patersonia (Norfolk Island Hibiscus)
  • Ligustrum sp (Privet)
  • Melia azedarach (White Cedar)
  • Morus species (Mulberry)
  • Musa species (Banana)
  • Olea europaea var. Africana (African Olive)
  • Robinia pseudacacia –not cultivars (False Acacia)
  • Salix babylonica (Willow)
  • Schefflera actinophylla (Umbrella Tree)
  • Syagrus romanzoffianum (Cocos Palm).

The following tree species can be pruned or removed without City permission if the tree is less than 10 metres tall unless it is listed in the City's Register of Significant Trees:

  • Cinnamomum camphora (Camphor Laurel)
  • Celtis sinensis (Chinese Nettle Tree)
  • Celtis occidentalis (American Nettle Tree)
  • Erythrina x sykesii (Coral Tree)
  • Liquidambar styraciflua (Liquidambar)

Trees on private property can be pruned without City permission where it will achieve clearances for the areas listed in the table below and where the branch size is less than the diameter size shown. Other factors to consider include:

  • Pruning will not remove more than 5% of the tree's total canopy.
  • The structural stability of the tree will not be affected.
  • Damage or decline of the tree will not be caused.

Important note: it is the applicant's responsibility to ensure the works are exempt or if approval is still required. Trees must still be pruned or removed by a qualified arborist and to Australian Standards. If you are not sure, you should submit an application to ensure the tree is pruned correctly to avoid being fined.

Location Clearance permitted Permitted branch size
Major arterial roads 4.5m clearance in height measured from the road surface and in line with the kerb alignment Up to (not exceeding) 100mm in diameter
Local roads 2.5m clearance over parking lanes and 4.5m clearance over roads, measured in height from the road surface and in line with the kerb alignment Up to (not exceeding) 100mm in diameter
City pedestrian paths 2.5m clearance over footpath measured in height from ground level Up to 100mm in diameter
Domestic power or telecommunications lines Minimum clearance of 0.5 metres and a maximum clearance of 1m, measured from the service line Up to 50mm in diameter
Buildings Maximum clearance of 1 metre from any approved building, measured from the surface of the structural component (wall or roof) of the building's edge Up to 50mm in diameter

 

Dead or immediately dangerous

If your tree is dead or immediately dangerous you do not need the City’s permission. Importantly however, you will have to do the following:

  • record the tree’s condition and the cause of any risk that the tree may pose
  • provide a statement that verifies that the works undertaken will be or were the minimum necessary to manage the risk
  • **provide a report to the City from a qualified Arborist (minimum AQF Level 3 Arboriculture) prior to works taking place or immediately following the works.

** The City must be satisfied that a person with the appropriate knowledge and expertise has made the decision that the tree should be removed without the City’s consent.

The qualified arborist will be the party responsible in deciding the tree is an imminent risk to public safety. Otherwise, works are considered to have occurred without the City’s consent and fines or legal action may be pursued by Council.

How to apply

If you would like to prune or remove a tree on your property, first check the exemptions outlined in the tree management controls. 

If you need to apply, download and complete an application form and send it to the City of Sydney with a $48 fee. Applications for tree pruning or removal are usually assessed within 28 days.

Note: the property owner or their authorised agent (such as the secretary of a body corporate or a managing agent) must sign the application. We can't consent to remove a tree without the property owners’ permission.

Decision appeals

If you wish to seek a review of a decision we have made about an application you need to do so in writing, within 6 months of the determination date. You need to include further information such as an arborist or engineer's report to support your appeal application, which will be assessed by a different staff member.

Fees for an appeal are 50% of the original tree pruning/removal application fee. We recommend lodging your review application as soon as possible to facilitate the statutory timeframe of 6 months from determination date. Alternatively, you can lodge your appeal with the NSW Land and Environment Court within 6 months of receiving the determination.

Trees in your neighbour's yard

You also need to apply to the City before you prune the overhanging branches of a neighbour’s tree (if it meets the size requirements above). Permission from your neighbour is not required, although we recommend you let them know as a courtesy that you want to prune the tree.

Pruning a neighbour’s tree back to the property line is not permitted as it damages the tree. All pruning must conform to the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees (AS4373). Read more on trees and neighbours.

Tree inspections

Your tree will be inspected by a City arborist before your application is determined. This visual assessment notes the current health, condition and structure of the tree.

Should your tree need further analysis (including an aerial inspection, resistance testing of the tree, pathology assessment, or soil removal) you will need to engage a consultant arborist who is qualified to report on the health and safety of trees. See guidelines below for details.

Once assessed, you (or the owner of the property) will receive a decision on your application in writing. If your application has been approved, you must display the letter at the front of the property 2 days prior to, during and two days following the pruning or removal of the tree.

Replacement tree planting requirements

In most instances a permit for tree removal will include a condition requiring you to plant a replacement tree. The condition may specify the size, species and attributes of the tree to be planted.

When deciding on a replacement tree you should take into consideration its proximity to:

  • services such as electricity wires and sewer/drainage lines
  • buildings and boundary walls
  • neighbouring properties.

Fruit and flower-drop are a natural process and tree removal will not be granted for these reasons alone – characteristics that should also be considered when you choose the replacement tree.

Guidelines for arborists

You’ll need an arborist if your application involves complex investigation, internal diagnostic testing or an aerial inspection of the tree. You may need to submit a report from a qualified arborist with a pruning or removal application if the tree is listed on the City’s Register of Significant Trees.

Applications for pruning or removing trees on proposed development sites also need an arborist’s report.

Such reports can only be prepared by an arborist who holds a Diploma of Horticulture (Arboriculture) Australian Qualification Framework (AQF 5) or equivalent and has demonstrated experience in high-level tree assessment and diagnosis.

A consultant arborist is a specialist in the diagnosis and reporting of trees. It is important to note there is a difference in the qualification and skill level between an arborist that prunes or removes a tree (tree worker) compared to an arborist that diagnoses tree health and structure (consultant arborist).

Please review the guidelines for arborists so you know what they need to include in the report. (Note that some of the matters in the guidelines relate to trees on proposed development sites only.)

Links

Heritage Council of NSWSearch for NSW heritage

Last updated: Friday, 21 June 2013