The Importance of Trees

In July 2019 The Age newspaper published an article concerning the decline of trees in Metropolitan Melbourne, using research findings from a study by RMIT University. The article reported that in the 5 years between 2014 and 2018, a total of approximately 2000 hectares of tree cover was lost from the city. The eastern suburbs had lost approximately two-thirds of this, with the western suburbs gaining slightly in tree cover. The article then went on to show the difference in tree cover between 2014 and 2018 by metropolitan municipality. The greatest extent of loss appears to be experienced in outer suburbs such as Yarra Ranges and Mornington Peninsula. However, other outer areas such as Melton, Whittlesea and Wyndham had gains of between 1-2% over this time.

The study found that the loss of vegetation could be attributed to:

  • Urban redevelopment and homeowners’ clearing vegetation;
  • Possible species loss through intolerance to hot and dry climate conditions;

Regular applicants will know that issues such as; provision of land for landscaping within new development proposals, providing setbacks for landscaping and appropriate species choice, have come into closer scrutiny in recent years

While many of the State’s Planning Schemes contain local planning policy to maintain, replace or increase landscaping through the planning permit process, many have no specific standards beyond ResCode Standard B13 at Clause 55.03-8 Landscaping Objectives and Rescode Standard A8 at Clause 54.03-6 Significant Trees Objective which both include:

Development should provide for the retention or planting of trees, where these are part of the character of the neighbourhood.

Development should provide for the replacement of any significant trees that have been removed in the 12 months prior to the application being made.

Pursuant to Clause 52.17 Native Vegetation, the Planning Scheme provides for offset planting to mitigate the ecological impacts of loss of native vegetation, but only on lots of greater than 4000 square metres, which excludes the majority of privately owned land in Melbourne. The offset planting is unlikely to be in metropolitan Melbourne due to limited land size and limited existing ecologically significant areas of vegetation to be protected or enhanced.

The structure of Victoria’s planning schemes provides the opportunity for specific landscaping standards to be inserted into the Schedules of the Residential zones. The schedules may vary Clause 54 and 55 (ResCode) standards for setbacks, site coverage, permeability, landscaping, walls on boundaries, private open space and front fences. In relation to Landscaping, an example is Banyule City Council which has varied:

– the Clause 55 Standard B13 for the General Residential Zone Schedule 1 to include the following  requirement:

Landscape plans will provide at least 1 large tree in the front setback

  • The Clause 55 Standard B13 for the General Residential Zone Schedule 2 to include the following requirement:

Landscape plans will provide 1 tree for every 400 square metres of site area, including 1 large tree in the front setback.

Banyule’s Residential Neighbourhood Character Policy at Clause 22.02 of the Banyule Planning Scheme also includes policy for planting requirements which go further to include:

One (1) medium to large tree should be provided for every 400 sq.m of site area, with a preference for large trees. This may include existing trees that are worthy of retention. At least one of the large trees should be provided in the front setback.

Local policy at this clause also includes an application information requirement to provide a landscaping plan which considers the Banyule Tree Planting Zone Guidelines which set out standards for the planting of small, medium and large trees in new development sites, relative to lot area.

Moreland City Council also have variations to the Schedule for their General Residential and Neighbourhood Residential Zones which specifies the requirement for:

A minimum of 1 tree should be planted in the front setback, in accordance with the Moreland Tree Planting Manual for Residential Zones, 2014 (General Residential Zones).


A minimum of 1 tree should be located within both the front setback and the secluded private open space of each dwelling, in accordance with the Moreland Tree Planting Manual for Residential Zones, 2014.

At the time of writing, Moreland City Council have Planning Scheme Amendment C189 under exhibition. This Planning Scheme Amendment proposes to direct specific tree planting outcomes in medium density housing by adding landscaping requirements within the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, General Residential Zone, Residential Growth Zone and Mixed Use Zone Schedules

The proposed changes include:

  • Update local policy to refer to the Moreland Tree Planting Manual for Residential Zones, 2019 and include policy to include planting in the front setback with at least one canopy tree, and planting of canopy trees in the secluded private open spaces of each dwelling in accordance with the Schedule to the Zone, and maximise opportunities for tree planting in side and rear setbacks.
  • Amend the Schedule 2 to the General Residential Zone to include the following design objective:

Ensure the design and siting of new buildings maximises landscaping throughout the site, including the retention of existing canopy trees(where practical) and the planting of new canopy trees and vegetation.

And to vary standard B13 to include a range of specific landscaping requirements including

  • expected mature tree heights and canopy widths,
  • dimensions of a minimum permeable area to set each tree in
  • Shading of accessways to limit the urban heat island effect
  • Landscaping along accessways.

The provision of specific standards for landscaping gives greater certainty for planning permit applicants, where defined planting expectations assist in concept development and building envelope layout. This is the case particularly for canopy trees which generally provide the greatest public/neighbour offsite amenity. Frustration experienced by planning permit applicants is often cause by uncertainty over the expectations of the Responsible Authority in relation to subjective or non-specific provisions in Planning Schemes. While the standards described above are not mandatory, they are useful in defining an appropriate minimum standard giving confidence to Council, applicants and other parties that landscaping and tree planting is accommodated in new development proposals.

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