HOMEOWNERS are rushing to cut down trees in a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction ahead of the introduction of controversial protection laws, it has been claimed.
Under the planned changes, any work carried out to a tree with a trunk greater than the width of a Pringles tube would require planning permission.
The policy is currently out for consultation.
One tree surgeon said he was receiving around two calls a day to cut trees down and that his work had been ‘much busier’ recently.
Joël Freire, of Tree Matters, said: ‘What is frustrating is that normally people would be keeping these trees.
‘We have noticed a dramatic knee-jerk reaction from clients with a lot of land and trees contemplating complete removal rather than maintaining them as a result of this draconian law being discussed.’
Landscape gardener Andrew Le Maistre said for ‘anything over the size of a Pringles tin, measuring one and a half metres in height’, an Islander would ‘have to get planning permission’.
He also predicted a ‘spike in work’ for tree surgeons and added that ‘people will be planting less trees thinking, “Why should I plant more trees?”.’
Mr Le Maistre claimed that the legislation ‘loosely defined’ what constituted a tree, which he said under the definition included shrubs and camellia plants.
He added: ‘They [Islanders] are not going to want to plant trees knowing that in three or four years’ time they could have an issue with planning [permission].’
Meanwhile, Godel Architects director Bob Godel said the proposed legislation was ‘counter-productive’ and argued it would create ‘swathes of additional bureaucracy’ within the Planning Department.
Last year, the States Assembly approved plans to better protect trees by including them under the definition of development within Jersey’s Planning and Building Law.
According to the government’s legislation, if a tree has a trunk with a diameter below eight centimetres, or is less than one-and-a-half metres above ground level, planning permission will not be required to carry out work to it.
The proposed legislation could also mean waits of up to 28 days to allow the Planning Department time to decide whether an individual can conduct work on trees. This was revealed at a meeting last month, which prompted one resident to say the process made owning trees a ‘liability’.
Mr Godel said: ‘In my view this legislation will inevitably be costly to administer and to regulate, will inevitably be underresourced by government, and will cause totally unnecessary delays to people wanting to carry out inconsequential works to whatever is deemed to be a tree on their own land.’
He also said that pruning a branch that was over 5cm in diameter would ‘in future require approval via the Planning system, with all the expense and delays that that will entail; and if the work is undertaken without permission, the perpetrator could be prosecuted’.
Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf said the States had passed the amendment a year ago, ‘so the industry has known for a while that these changes were coming’.
He added: ‘Anecdotally, I am told that there may have been some felling to try and get in ahead of enhanced protection. I cannot say whether this is the case or not, but what I would say is that there is no way of bringing in enhanced protection without consultation, so I just have to accept that there is a risk of a small number of trees being lost in the short term, in the knowledge that the end result will be a framework for stronger protection for all trees in the Island.’
Deputy Renouf continued: ‘The aim is for the policy to enable most routine tree maintenance work to continue without any need for planning permission. This will be enabled by proposing a series of “exceptions”, which will exempt many types of routine work from the need for planning permission.’
The minister said he had agreed to extend the consultation, which was due to close on 23 April, by two weeks.
To provide feedback on the proposed tree protection process and exceptions, visit gov.je/consultations.