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Do I Need A Permit To Remove A Tree In Sydney? | 2024 Guide

Sydney tree removal permit requirements

Before you start cutting down that problematic tree in your Sydney yard, there's a crucial question you need to ask: Do I need a permit for tree removal? The answer is not always straightforward, as tree removal laws and regulations vary across the city's different councils and suburbs.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explain the key factors that determine whether you need council approval to remove a tree in Sydney. We'll also walk you through the permit application process, costs and requirements for 2024, so you can stay on the right side of the law and avoid hefty fines.

Whether you're a homeowner, developer or arborist, understanding Sydney's tree removal regulations is essential to ensure the work is done safely, legally and with minimal impact on our urban forest. Let's dive in and demystify the complex world of tree removal permits.

Key Takeaways

  • Most councils in Sydney require a permit to remove trees over a certain size or significance
  • Permit requirements vary based on tree height, trunk diameter, species and location
  • Fines of up to $1.1 million apply for illegal tree removal or pruning
  • The tree removal permit application process can take 4-6 weeks or longer
  • An arborist report may be needed to assess the tree and support the application
  • Some exemptions apply for dead, dangerous or pest species trees
  • Contact us for expert help navigating Sydney's tree removal laws

Why Tree Removal Is Regulated In Sydney

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of tree removal permits, it's important to understand why these regulations exist in the first place. Sydney is blessed with a diverse and expansive urban forest that provides countless benefits to our city, such as:

  • Improving air quality by absorbing pollutants and CO2
  • Reducing urban heat island effect and cooling streets
  • Providing habitat and food for native birds and wildlife
  • Enhancing the aesthetic appeal and character of neighborhoods
  • Increasing property values and local amenity

However, Sydney's trees are under constant threat from development, extreme weather, pests and diseases. Between 2013-2020, the city lost a staggering 2.2 million trees, or 57 trees per hour, according to a recent study by Greener Spaces Better Places. This alarming decline in canopy cover has serious implications for our health, environment and quality of life.

To protect our precious urban forest, Sydney's councils have strict laws around tree removal on both public and private land. These Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) aim to balance the need for development with the long-term sustainability and resilience of our city.

Understanding tree removal laws in Sydney

While the specific rules vary between council areas, the general purpose of TPOs is to:

  • Preserve trees of ecological, heritage, aesthetic or cultural value
  • Protect significant or endangered tree species and habitats
  • Maintain a minimum level of canopy cover and ecological services
  • Ensure tree works are carried out safely and to industry standards
  • Prevent illegal or unnecessary tree removal and lopping

Under these laws, property owners must obtain council approval before cutting down or majorly pruning any protected tree. This allows the council arborist to assess the tree and determine if removal is warranted based on factors like health, risk, amenity and environmental value.

Of course, these regulations can sometimes be frustrating for property owners who just want to get rid of a problematic tree quickly. However, when you consider the bigger picture and the irreplaceable value of our urban trees, the permit process is a small price to pay for a greener, healthier and more livable Sydney.

Which Trees Require A Removal Permit In Sydney?

Now that we've covered the 'why' of tree removal permits, let's look at the 'which'. Not every tree in Sydney is protected, so how do you know if you need council approval to remove a particular specimen?

The first step is to check your local council's Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or Development Control Plan (DCP). These documents set out the specific criteria for which trees are protected and require a permit for removal.

While the rules vary between Sydney's 30+ councils, most use a combination of the following factors to define a 'protected tree':


Trees over a certain height are typically protected, regardless of species. This height threshold can range from 3-5m in urban areas up to 10m in more vegetated suburbs.

Trunk Diameter

Many TPOs also specify a minimum trunk diameter at breast height (DBH) for protected trees, usually between 10-50cm. This is measured at 1.4m above ground level.

Canopy Spread

Some councils use canopy spread as a criterion, with trees over a certain width (e.g. 3-5m) being protected.


Certain tree species may be automatically protected, such as natives like eucalypts, banksias and angophoras. Conversely, some exotic species may be exempt from permit requirements.


Trees of high ecological, heritage, aesthetic or cultural significance are often protected regardless of size. This includes habitat trees, endangered species or trees listed on a significant tree register.


Trees located in environmentally sensitive areas like bushland, wetlands, coastal zones or riparian corridors usually require a permit for any works.

Tree removal restrictions in Sydney suburbs

To give you an idea of how these criteria play out in practice, here are some examples of protected tree sizes in different Sydney councils:

Council Height Trunk Diameter
City of Sydney 5m+ 10cm+
North Sydney 5m+ 10cm+
Randwick 6m+ -
Northern Beaches 5m+ 15cm+
Sutherland Shire 3m+ 30cm+

As you can see, the size thresholds for protected trees are generally quite low, especially in built-up areas. This means that the majority of mature trees in Sydney will require a permit for major works like removal or lopping.

It's important to note that these rules apply to both private and public trees, including those on council land, streets and parks. They also cover any actions that may damage or kill a tree, such as poisoning, ringbarking or excessively pruning the crown.

If you're unsure whether a particular tree is protected or exempt, the best course of action is to contact your local council or consult with a qualified arborist. They can assess the tree against the relevant criteria and advise you on the appropriate approval pathway.

Council approval for tree removal & lopping Sydney

Exemptions To Tree Removal Permit Requirements

While the majority of mature trees in Sydney are protected, there are some instances where you can legally remove a tree without council approval. These exemptions are designed to streamline the process for low-risk or essential tree works.

The specific exemptions vary between councils, but may include:

Small Trees

Trees under the size thresholds for protection (e.g. <5m high or <10cm diameter) can usually be removed without a permit. This allows for the routine maintenance of young or insignificant trees.

Dead Trees

Dead trees can often be removed without approval, as they no longer provide ecological or amenity value. However, you may need to provide evidence like photos or an arborist report to confirm the tree is dead.

Dangerous Trees

If a tree poses an immediate risk to human life or property, it can usually be removed without a permit. This includes trees that are structurally unsound, severely damaged or at imminent risk of failure. Again, documented proof of the hazard is usually required.

Pest Species

Some councils allow the removal of declared pest species like privet, lantana or camphor laurel without approval. These invasive trees can spread rapidly and outcompete native vegetation if left unchecked.

Exempt Works

Certain types of minor tree works may be exempt from permit requirements, such as pruning less than 10% of the canopy, removing deadwood or selectively thinning crowded branches. These exemptions are designed to allow for routine maintenance that improves tree health.

Complying Development

Some tree removals associated with approved developments, such as construction of a new dwelling or swimming pool, may be exempt from separate permit requirements. However, the tree impacts would need to be assessed as part of the main development application.

It's important to note that these exemptions are not a free pass to remove any tree you don't like. You must still have a valid reason and evidence to support the tree removal, and follow any notification or replacement planting requirements.

If you incorrectly assume a tree is exempt and remove it without approval, you can still face significant penalties. This is why it's always best to err on the side of caution and seek professional advice before removing any mature tree in Sydney.

Arborist report for tree removal permit application Sydney

Penalties For Illegal Tree Removal In Sydney

Removing a protected tree without approval is a serious offence that can attract hefty fines and legal consequences in Sydney. The penalties are designed to deter unauthorised tree works and reflect the significant ecological, amenity and economic value of our urban forest.

The maximum penalty for illegal tree removal or pruning in Sydney is $1.1 million for individuals and $2 million for corporations under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

In practice, the fines issued by councils for tree breaches tend to be lower than this maximum, but still significant. For example:

  • City of Sydney can issue fines of $3000-$6000 for individuals and $6000-$12,000 for businesses
  • Northern Beaches Council can issue fines of $1500-$3000 for illegal tree works
  • Sutherland Shire Council recently issued a fine of $12,000 to a homeowner for removing a 15m eucalyptus tree

On top of the initial fine, councils can also issue orders requiring you to:

  • Replant the same species and maintain it for a set period
  • Provide replacement canopy cover to offset the loss
  • Carry out other rectification works like erosion control
  • Submit a vegetation management plan for the site
  • Pay an environmental bond or compensation

Failure to comply with these orders can result in further fines, criminal charges or court proceedings. In extreme cases, councils can even take direct action to replant the tree and bill you for the cost.

It's not just the financial cost you need to worry about either. Illegal tree removal can also seriously damage your reputation and relationships in the community. Neighbours, councils and local media are increasingly quick to call out and shame tree vandals in their area.

So even if you disagree with the tree protection rules, it's not worth risking the hefty penalities and backlash that come with illegal removal. The smart approach is to follow the proper approval process or explore alternative options like pruning, root barriers or engineered solutions.

Tree removal permit application process Sydney

Tree Removal Permit Application Process In Sydney

If you've determined that your tree is protected and not exempt, the next step is to apply for a tree removal permit from your local council. This process can seem daunting at first, but by following these key steps you can give yourself the best chance of approval:

1. Check Your Council's Requirements

Start by reviewing your council's specific tree preservation policy and permit application requirements. These should be available on their website or by contacting their tree management department.

Pay close attention to:

  • What information you need to provide about the tree(s)
  • What supporting documents are required (e.g. site plan, arborist report)
  • What criteria council will use to assess the application
  • The application fees and processing times

2. Gather Information About The Tree

To properly assess your application, council will need key details about the tree(s) you wish to remove, including:

  • Species and common name
  • Height, trunk diameter and canopy spread
  • Health and structural condition
  • Location on the property
  • Reason for removal

The more information you can provide upfront, the smoother the assessment process will be. Include clear photos of the tree from different angles and a detailed site plan showing its position in relation to buildings, services and boundaries.

3. Get An Arborist Assessment & Report

For complex removals or contentious cases, it's highly recommended to engage an AQF Level 5 consulting arborist to assess the tree and provide a detailed report. This shows council that you've done your due diligence and helps justify your case for removal.

The arborist report should cover key aspects like:

  • Species identification and significance
  • Health, structure and useful life expectancy
  • Defects, weaknesses and risk factors
  • Impact of removal on local amenity and environment
  • Alternative management options to removal

Depending on the circumstances, you may also need to provide other supporting documents like a fauna survey, planting plan, root mapping or engineers report.

4. Complete The Application Form

Most councils have a specific application form for tree removal permits, either online or in hard copy. This will ask for details about the property, owner, tree(s) and reason for removal.

Make sure you complete all sections accurately and attach any required supporting documents. Double-check the application before submitting to avoid delays or rejection due to missing information.

5. Pay The Application Fee

Tree removal permit applications generally attract a processing fee to cover council's assessment costs. This can range from $50-$300 depending on the council and complexity of the application.

The fee is usually non-refundable, even if your application is unsuccessful. However, some councils offer a free initial assessment or pre-lodgement meeting to help you determine the likely outcome before applying.

6. Await Council's Decision

Once you've submitted your application and paid the fee, council will assess it against their tree preservation criteria. This can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks depending on the complexity and number of objections received.

A council arborist will usually inspect the tree on site and prepare a report with their recommendation to approve or refuse the permit. They may also impose conditions like replacement planting, pruning or protection of adjacent trees.

If approved, the permit will be valid for a set period (usually 1-2 years) and may require you to notify council before starting work. If refused, council will provide reasons for the decision and your options for appeal or resubmission.

Factors That Influence Tree Removal Permit Decisions

Councils consider a range of factors when assessing tree removal permit applications. While each council has its own specific criteria, some common considerations include:

Species & Significance

The species and significance of the tree is a key factor in permit decisions. Native, rare or ecologically important trees are generally harder to get approval for than exotic or pest species. Councils may also place higher protection on significant trees listed in a register or heritage conservation area.

Size & Age

The size and age of the tree can influence its significance and amenity value. Mature trees take decades to reach their full potential, so councils are often reluctant to approve removal of large, healthy specimens. Younger, smaller trees may be easier to replace and therefore more likely to get approval.

Health & Condition

The health and structural condition of the tree is another important consideration. Dead, dying or dangerous trees are more likely to get approval for removal than those in good condition. However, councils may still require evidence like an arborist report to confirm the tree's declining health or risk level.

Location & Impact

The location of the tree and its impact on property or infrastructure can be a valid reason for removal in some cases. Trees that are causing significant damage to foundations, drains, driveways or utilities may be approved for removal if there are no viable alternatives. However, minor nuisance factors like leaf drop, shading or views are generally not sufficient grounds on their own.

Environmental Value

Councils must balance the individual impact of removing a tree with the cumulative effect on the wider environment. Trees that provide important habitat, biodiversity, canopy cover or erosion control are less likely to be approved for removal. Councils may require replacement plantings to offset any loss of amenity or ecosystem services.

Development Requirements

Tree removal applications associated with a proposed development like a new house or extension will be assessed against the relevant planning controls. Councils will consider whether the tree can be reasonably retained or designed around, or if removal is necessary to enable the approved development. In some cases, a separate tree permit may not be required if the impacts are addressed in the main development consent.

Tree removal permit compliance requirements Sydney

It's important to remember that council's role is to make an objective decision based on the evidence provided and their legal obligations. They must consider the interests of the wider community and environment, not just the individual applicant.

If you're unsure about your chances of approval, it's best to discuss your case with a qualified arborist or tree management consultant before applying. They can give you an honest assessment of the tree and help you explore all the options to achieve your goals while staying on the right side of the law.

Common Reasons For Tree Removal Permit Refusal

While every case is unique, there are some common reasons why councils may refuse a tree removal permit application in Sydney. These include:

Insufficient Justification

The most common reason for refusal is that the applicant hasn't provided enough evidence to justify removing the tree. Simply wanting to get rid of a healthy tree for personal convenience or preference is not a valid reason under most TPOs. You need to demonstrate that the tree poses a genuine risk or impact that can't be reasonably managed through alternative methods like pruning, root barriers or engineering.

Incorrect Information

Providing inaccurate, misleading or incomplete information in your application can also lead to refusal. This includes understating the size or significance of the tree, overstating its health or risk issues, or failing to disclose relevant site constraints. Councils will usually conduct their own inspection to verify the details, so it's important to be upfront and honest in your application.

Adverse Impacts

Another common ground for refusal is that removing the tree would have an adverse impact on the surrounding landscape, environment or community. This includes factors like loss of amenity, habitat, biodiversity, canopy cover, soil stability or neighbourhood character. If the negative impacts of removal outweigh any potential benefits, council is unlikely to approve the permit.

Lack of Replacement

Most councils require permit holders to plant replacement trees to offset the loss of any removed specimens. Failing to include an adequate replanting plan in your application, or proposing inappropriate species or locations, can be grounds for refusal. The replacement plantings should be of a similar size, species and quality to maintain the overall landscape character and amenity.


If the tree removal doesn't comply with other relevant laws, policies or approvals, council may refuse the permit to avoid any legal or regulatory breaches. This includes cases where the removal would violate a development consent condition, heritage conservation order, bushfire protection requirement or biosecurity control order.

If your tree removal permit is refused, don't despair. Council will provide a written explanation of their reasons which can help you decide on the best course of action. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to:

  • Request a review or reconsideration of the decision
  • Lodge a formal appeal or objection through the relevant legal process
  • Modify your application to address council's concerns and resubmit
  • Explore alternative options to manage the tree's impact

In many cases, the best approach is to work with your arborist or tree management consultant to find a solution that balances your needs with council's requirements. By being proactive, flexible and pragmatic, you may be able to find a win-win outcome that preserves the tree's benefits while addressing any genuine issues.

Tree Removal Permit Costs In Sydney

So how much does it actually cost to get a tree removal permit in Sydney? As with most things in life, the answer is "it depends".

Permit application fees can vary significantly between councils and depending on the type and complexity of the tree work involved. As a general guide, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $300+ for a standard tree removal permit in Sydney.

Here are some examples of current tree removal permit fees in popular Sydney council areas:

Council Permit Fee
Sutherland Shire $77
Northern Beaches $167
City of Sydney $178
Randwick $155
Inner West $302.50

Keep in mind that these fees are just for the permit application and assessment process. They don't include the actual cost of removing the tree, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the size, location and complexity of the job.

If you need to engage an AQF Level 5 arborist to assess the tree and prepare a supporting report for your application, this will also add to the overall cost. Arborist reports can cost anywhere from $400 to $1500+ depending on the scope and level of detail required.

There may also be additional costs for other supporting documents like fauna surveys, planting plans, root mapping or structural engineers reports. These can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the total bill.

So while the upfront permit fee may seem relatively minor, the true cost of obtaining approval for tree removal can quickly add up. This is why it's so important to do your due diligence and seek expert advice before embarking on the permit process.

Average cost of tree removal permit Sydney

Choosing An Arborist For Tree Removal Permits

If you're applying for a tree removal permit in Sydney, engaging a qualified consulting arborist can make a big difference to your chances of success. A good arborist can help you:

  • Assess the tree's health, structure and risk level
  • Identify any significant or protected species
  • Explore alternative management options to removal
  • Prepare a detailed report to support your application
  • Liaise with council and other stakeholders on your behalf

However, not all arborists are created equal. When choosing an arborist for your tree removal permit, make sure they have:

Relevant Qualifications

At a minimum, your arborist should hold an AQF Level 5 Diploma in Arboriculture or equivalent. This is the industry standard for consulting arborists who provide expert advice and reports. Some common qualifications to look for include Certified Arborist (CA), Quantified Tree Risk Assessor (QTRA), Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA) or Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ).

Industry Memberships

Reputable arborists will be members of professional industry bodies like Arboriculture Australia, Institute of Australian Consulting Arboriculturists (IACA) or International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). These organisations have strict codes of conduct and continuing education requirements to ensure members maintain high standards of professionalism and expertise.

Insurance & Liability

Your arborist should carry adequate insurance to protect you and your property in case something goes wrong. Ask for proof of their public liability and professional indemnity policies before engaging their services. This will give you peace of mind that you're covered if any damage or legal issues arise from their advice.

Local Experience

Choosing an arborist with local experience in your council area can be a big advantage. They will be familiar with the specific tree preservation laws, assessment criteria and application process, which can save you time and hassle. They may also have existing relationships with council staff which can help smooth the way.

Communication Skills

A good arborist should be able to explain their findings and recommendations in plain English, not just technical jargon. They should take the time to understand your goals and concerns, and provide honest advice on the best course of action. Look for someone who is responsive, professional and easy to deal with throughout the process.

At Affordable Dan's Tree Services, we have a team of highly qualified and experienced arborists who can assist with all aspects of your tree removal permit application. Our experts hold AQF Level 5 Diplomas in Arboriculture and have decades of combined experience working with councils across Sydney.

We offer comprehensive tree assessments, detailed arborist reports and expert advice to support your case for removal. We can also handle the permit application process from start to finish, liaising with council and other parties to achieve the best possible outcome.

To learn more about our tree removal permit services or to book a free consultation, contact us today on 0414 538 360.

Tree Removal Permit FAQs Sydney

Most councils allow the removal of dead trees without a permit, as they no longer provide amenity or habitat value. However, you may need to provide evidence like photos or an arborist report to prove the tree is actually dead. It's best to check with your specific council first before removing any tree, even if it appears dead.

Tree removal permits are usually valid for 1-2 years from the date of issue, depending on the council. This means you have this window to carry out the approved works before the permit expires. If you don't remove the tree within this period, you may need to apply for a new permit or extension.

Removing a protected tree without council approval is a serious offence that can attract heavy penalties under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Fines can range from $3000 for individuals up to $1.1 million for corporations, per tree. You may also be ordered to replant the tree or pay environmental compensation.

Most councils have exemptions that allow property owners to remove an imminently dangerous tree without a permit. However, you will need to provide clear evidence of the risk like an arborist report or photos, and notify council in writing as soon as possible after the removal. It's important to note that this exemption only applies to genuine emergencies, not just general safety concerns.

Most councils allow minor pruning of protected trees without a permit, as long as it complies with the Australian Standard for Pruning of Amenity Trees (AS4373). This includes removing dead or diseased wood, selectively thinning crowded branches, lifting low limbs or reducing overhanging growth. However, more extensive pruning or lopping may still require approval - check your council's guidelines for specific definitions.

Expert assistance with tree removal permits Sydney


Navigating the complex world of tree removal permits in Sydney can be a daunting task for property owners. With so many different rules and criteria across the city's 30+ councils, it's easy to get confused or overwhelmed by the process.

However, understanding your legal obligations and seeking expert advice is crucial to ensure your tree work is compliant and avoid costly fines or disputes. By following the steps outlined in this guide and engaging a qualified arborist, you can give yourself the best chance of success with your permit application.

Remember, council's goal is not to prevent all tree removals, but to ensure they are justified, minimised and offset to protect our urban forest. By working collaboratively with your arborist and council, you may be able to find a solution that balances your needs with the wider community and environmental interests.

If you need help with a tree removal permit in Sydney, our expert team at Affordable Dan's Tree Services is here to assist. With decades of industry experience and a deep understanding of local council requirements, we can guide you through the process from start to finish.

To arrange a free consultation and quote, call us today on 0414 538 360 or send us an enquiry via our online form. We look forward to helping you achieve the best outcome for your tree.

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