Home builder 'at mercy' of Newcastle council over street tree fee

Lisa Allen | August 8, 2016

A MAN says he is being “held to ransom” by Newcastle City Council in a big dispute over a small tree out the front of his new home.

William Stephenson said the council was forcing him to pay $800 for a new tree at his Fletcher property, rather than allowing him to move an existing, healthy tree a matter of metres.

“You save up your deposit to build a house and then to get an $800 surprise bill for nothing,” Mr Stephenson said. 
ALIVE: The original street tree is still on site. Newcastle council has said a new tree is necessary, which comes with an $800 price tag.

“It just seems totally trivial where there’s a council-approved tree out the front of the house.”

Mr Stephenson’s new home is in Sanctuary, a Landcom development which requires a tree at the front of each property. The trees cannot be within two metres of the driveway.

Mr Stephenson said the tree was planted too close to his proposed driveway by the developer, after his development application was approved. It was removed by the builder during work for the driveway. The tree is still alive and on the site.

Newcastle City Council last week blocked the completion of Mr Stephenson’s construction until he pays $800 for council staff to plant a new tree.

The council will not allow Mr Stephenson to replant the existing tree.

“My tree is still on my site but the council greening says that it doesn’t have the same assurances of survival as other trees,” Mr Stephenson said.

“I got called by my builder who said, ‘mate, we need you to pay this or they won’t let us pour concrete’.

“I’m being held to ransom, the council makes you pay this fee because they stop your build.

“I’m hugely angry and disappointed.”

The high school teacher, who left Newcastle to find permanent work but hopes to return, said the house was almost complete.

“For me, the reality of it is, I want to rent it out until I get home so it’s costing me in lost rent,” he said.

“You are absolutely at their mercy.”

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said Mr Stephenson’s builder was refused consent to pour the driveway last week due to the missing tree.

“Street trees are planted by developers of new subdivisions in the middle of blocks to realise an even streetscape design and allow owners to build a driveway on one side,” the spokesman said.

“The owner of the property is building a driveway wide enough for two cars at the kerb, which requires the removal of the existing tree and a replacement at least two metres from the driveway to protect against future root damage.”

The spokesman said the replacement fee “covers the supply, planting and maintenance of the new tree until it is well established, which typically takes around two years”. 

“The conditions of consent have been applied consistently to all similar activity in the Newcastle LGA,” he said.
Mr Stephenson questioned the revenue the council made from the fee.

“If you think how many houses are being built here, it adds up to a lot of money,” he said.

​Council declined to answer when asked how many home builders had paid the replanting fee. There have been 550 houses built in Sanctuary since 2008.

Article Sourced: http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4080776/800-tree-fee-stops-work-on-new-home/?cs=305