Tree moratorium and climate change debated at Port Stephens Council

Climate change draft doesn't go far enough

Concern about the direction Port Stephens Council is heading in regard to environmental protection and conservation has prompted community leaders to plea for more sensible debate and less 'grandstanding' by councillors.

At the June 23 council meeting, councillors discussed the merits of a proposed 12-month tree moratorium by amending the Development Control Plan and the council's first draft climate change policy.

Both documents have been placed on public exhibition and residents are being urged to have their say and make submissions by the July 27 deadline.

The DCP amendment stems from a March 10 notice of motion put forward by Cr Chris Doohan calling for a 12-month moratorium on pre-approvals "to remove trees that are considered a risk to human life or property".

Nigel Waters, from EcoNetwork Port Stephens, said preservation of tree cover was vital not just for the character of the area, but also for shade, cooling, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.

"It is pleasing that council has recognised that the tree management policy already provides for easy and swift removal of genuinely dangerous trees. We encourage everyone to look closely at the minor changes to the policy and process as the devil can often be in the detail," he said.

Mr Waters agreed that there should be better education and information about the policy, so that the rules are clear both to residents with genuine fears and to property owners and developers who unfortunately seek short cuts to removing trees for economic or amenity reasons.

Nelson Bay's prolific tree planter, Margaret Wilkinson, said she harboured fears of some residents interpreting the proposal as "open slather" in regard to cutting down trees.

"The rules have been made clearer via the DCP amendment and in fact nothing has changed. The rest of the [council debate] was potential grandstanding."

Soldiers Point Community Group's Jean Armstrong said that protection of native vegetation and wildlife habitat was essential to our well-being.

"We hope the planning staff and councillors will heed the cries of those who are deeply concerned about the environment and intergenerational equity. Future generations will shoulder the consequences of the actions we take now," she said.

The council's draft climate change policy has been referred to by CAPS president Alisha Onslow as having not gone far enough and having not includes "specific targets or timeframes".

"We believe that the policy should cover more broadly council's role in mitigating climate change, both in its own actions and by leading the wider community," said Ms Onslow.

"The policy should set targets including a commitment to net zero emissions in the entire Port Stephens community, in line with the state government's target of net zero by 2050."

EcoNetwork secretary Kathy Brown described the draft as being "long overdue".

"Port Stephens is especially vulnerable to dramatic changes in climate not only because of our coastal location but because of our population dynamics ... but the value of the policy is very difficult to judge based on a three-page outline," said Ms Brown.

"Port Stephens is a member of Hunter-based organisations which provide extensive support and expertise in areas such as the increasing average and extreme temperatures, increase in severity of weather events, sea level rise, rainfall and water supply."

The policy was presented to the council as a result of a February 25 motion from Cr Giacomo Arnott, calling it to be council's number one policy development priority.

"This is a policy statement outlining council's belief in human-induced climate change, the consequences of climate change, from worsening bushfires to coastal erosion, and outlining the council's commitment to do its part in combating climate change," Cr Arnott said.

"The policy also includes residents and businesses, because we need everyone in our community to do their part to work towards reducing our carbon footprint."