TREE DISPUTES BETWEEN NEIGHBOURS
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ:
My question is addressed to the Attorney General. What is the New South Wales Government doing to help neighbours resolve disputes over trees?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I acknowledge this important question and the member's interest in trees. The Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act was introduced by this Government in 2006. The Act aims to provide a simple, inexpensive and accessible process by establishing a new procedure in the Land and Environment Court to resolve neighbour disputes about urban trees causing damage to property or risk of injury. The review of the Act took place in 2009 and received over 230 submissions from residents, community groups, professional associations, councils and government associations. The review found that the policy objectives of the Act remained valid, but made recommendations to improve the operation of the Act. The Government has accepted all of the review's recommendations and legislative amendments will be developed for the Parliament's consideration.
The Land and Environment Court will be given the power to resolve disputes between neighbours over high hedges that severely affect views and sunlight. Neighbourhood feuds over hedges are becoming increasingly common. Reports have been received of residents growing spiked hedges to deliberately block a neighbour's view. Until now no simple legal avenue was available to resolve such disputes. That is why the Government will give the Land and Environment Court a new jurisdiction creating a mechanism by which neighbour disputes about high hedges can be heard and disposed of proportionately, balances competing rights of neighbours to enjoy their property and ensures that the existence and health of urban trees can be maintained.
Given the environmental and other benefits of urban vegetation and this new procedure, the circumstances in which a person can apply for orders regarding trees that block out light and views will be limited to the most serious cases. People will not be able to make an application regarding a single tree. Rather, the application must relate to groups of two or more trees planted to form a hedge and that rise to a height of at least 2.5 metres. The new part 2 of the Act will enable people to apply to the Land and Environment Court for relief when these high hedges on private adjoining land severely obstruct sunlight to a window of their dwelling or a view from that dwelling. This will cultivate community harmony by providing neighbours with a simple, accessible and inexpensive legal means for resolving hedge disputes without the need for a lawyer.
Other changes to the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006 arising from the review include giving the Land and Environment Court jurisdiction to hear and determine matters arising out of the Dividing Fences Act 1991 where an application has been made under the Trees Act in relation to a tree that has caused, is causing or is likely to cause damage to a dividing fence, or a tree that is itself part of a dividing fence and has caused, is causing or is likely to cause damage to property or is likely to cause injury to a person; extending the operation of part 2 of the Act—which relates to trees that have caused, are causing or are likely to cause damage to property or risk of injury—to land zoned rural-residential; making it clear that an application for an order under part 2 of the Trees Act may still be made following the removal of the tree that has caused damage or injury on which the application is based; enabling the immediate successor in title to an applicant to benefit from certain orders made under part 2 of the Act; and prescribing vines as a tree for the purposes of the Trees Act. The Trees Act has proved to be a cheap, popular and successful instrument for neighbours to achieve a resolution to their disputes. I am pleased to inform the House that this instrument now will be more efficacious and far reaching following the implementation of the recommendations of the review.