Green Party introduces law to protect urban trees and nature sites

Steven Matthews TD, Green Party Spokesperson for Planning and Local Government, has today (3rd May) launched the ‘Urban Tree Protection and Sites Locally Important for Ecology Bill 2023’. This Bill will strengthen the protection of trees in urban areas and enable communities to designate local sites as being an important biodiversity area.

Speaking on the new nature site designations in the Bill, Deputy Matthews said:
“For many of us, being able to walk around our parks and green spaces was a lifeline and the only thing that kept us sane during the pandemic. We rediscovered the importance of nature locally. This Bill puts power back into the hands of local communities, to decide what is important locally, so that we don’t lose these precious sites.”What this means practically is that anybody in the community can request that their local Council protects a certain local nature site. The Council may then prohibit the wilful destruction of the site and landowners may have to enter into an agreement with the planning authority to properly manage the site.”  

The overarching goal of the Bill is to protect more of the spaces and features which are important to people and nature, without hindering the development of much-needed housing and local infrastructure. This Bill does that by:  

  • Introducing ‘Sites Locally Important for Ecology’, which communities can designate to protect important local nature areas.
  • Prioritising treatment and management of trees over cutting down. Where trees do have to be cut down, there will be a duty to replant, and an additional duty on public bodies to provide an arborist’s report. 
  • Changing the tree preservation order process. Stakeholders suggest that one of the primary reasons for the poor uptake in the current tree preservation orders process is that the order itself represents an ‘all-or-nothing’ decision; once it has been granted, it is very difficult to remove, which leads to more caution in granting them. People will be allowed to appeal decisions where there has been a refusal to allow for works involving the tree.  

Regarding the new protections for urban trees, Deputy Matthews added:“There are only 164 TPOs in force in Ireland relating to areas or individual trees. Over a quarter of these relate to Wicklow alone and only 16 of the 31 Local Authorities have a record of TPOs.At the same time, Local Authorities have been cutting down thousands of trees every year. This trend is in the wrong direction for what we are scientifically and legally required to do. International and EU laws mean that we are legally required to increase our green urban areas. This Bill is a step in that direction. This Bill will allow us to protect trees based on their climate, flood risk and air quality benefits, rather than the current narrow definition of ‘amenity value’.”   The Green Party has consistently argued for the protection and expansion of our natural sites and trees. Our 1987 General Election Manifesto called for “parks, arbours, canals, river-banks, wildlife habitats and other amenities be protected and expanded where possible, with special emphasis on tree planting”.