1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
On 17 October 2022, the Environment, Resources and Development committee (the committee) resolved to conduct an inquiry into the urban forest with Terms of Reference developed and agreed on 14 November 2022.
This inquiry topic was developed in the context of the committee’s concerns about the effect of residential subdivisions, urban infill and higher density living on the declining tree canopy in metropolitan Adelaide. A recent report from the Conservation Council of SA estimates that Greater Adelaide is losing 75,000 trees a year.1 Declining tree canopy is a particular concern for urban areas given increasing temperatures associated with climate change. In order to preserve the liveability of Australian cities increased vegetation and tree canopy is needed to shade and cool urban areas. With declining tree canopy, urban areas are at risk of becoming less liveable, with some urban areas in Australian cities even becoming potentially uninhabitable due to increased temperatures.
A recent Aerometrex study into tree canopy for the whole of Adelaide (using LiDAR and based on 2018 data) estimates a tree canopy covers just 23.37% of the metropolitan area. Of the canopy that remains, 51.9% is on private land, 25.9% on state government land, and 10.9% on local government land.2 In 2017, the 30-Year Plan target for tree canopy in Adelaide stated that council areas with less than 30% tree canopy need to increase urban tree canopy cover by 20% by 2045.3
The committee will explore best practice measures to increase the canopy and look to facilitate improved tree species selection so that trees have the best chance of surviving and thriving in our changing climate. The committee will also investigate legislative or regulatory options with potential to improve the resilience of (new and existing) trees in the urban forest. Following advertising on social media, in The Advertiser and regional newspapers, the committee received 229 submissions. So far, the committee has heard from 21 witnesses, and witness hearings will continue over the course of the inquiry.
Based on the preliminary evidence received and heard by the committee to date, members have issued 13 interim recommendations (plus two sub-recommendations) that focus on regulatory change to better value and protect existing trees and to facilitate the planting of more trees. Further community education to raise awareness of the value of the urban canopy and investment in vital research, is also recommended.
From the evidence the committee has received, it is clear that trees have been undervalued for too long, and that this has led to many trees being needlessly removed.
While demand for housing increases, and so does the rate of urban infill, the canopy is threatened by development. The recommendations put together by the committee seek to ensure that established trees are appropriately valued and preserved and that new trees are planted to grow the existing urban canopy. This requires action by those who hold custody of trees on both private and public land.
This is the Inquiry’s first tranche of recommendations. The committee will continue with the inquiry, and further discussion and recommendations will be contained in the Final Report in 2024.
In the committee’s view, these recommendations are among the most salient, urgent and straightforward that the committee intends to make.
The committee makes these interim recommendations in the early stages of its inquiry into the Urban Forest to:
respond to the clear community call for urgent action on arresting the decline of the
urban tree canopy;
provide timely feedback and recommendations to government, without further or
provide transparency to the public about the committee’s progress and thinking on key
issues, and accountability to those people and organisations who’ve made submission
to the inquiry so far; and
stimulate community debate on this issue and specifically the topics covered by these
The recommendations also serve as a foundation for further recommendations the committee intends and expects to make into the new year.
The committee welcomes feedback and engagement on these recommendations and urges the responsible Ministers to act on these interim recommendations without undue delay.