Western Australia Councilor Chris Cornish is urging the Sunshine Coast Council (SCC) to consider reducing the red tape around verge gardens – after council workers cut down 18 fruit trees in the Urban Food Streets (UFS) precinct at Buderim.
The gardens span 11 streets and provide sufficient produce to feed approximately 200 households – but the council has decided that if residents do not obtain free permits and take out public liability insurance on the land, the trees would be removed. So far, more that 20 residents have received permits, while others have continued to refuse on principle.
According to the Insurance Council of Australia, public liability insurance is generally included in any household policy – extending to liabilities arising from incidents that would occur on a nature strip or verge. Since it’s easy to get this coverage, there would be no reason to “expose every resident” of the Sunshine Coast to the additional cost of insuring against it, said SCC’s director of community services, Coralie Nichols.
“It’s not a difficulty for homeowners to extend their insurance to cover the verge for this purpose,” she said. “Of the 23 residents who’ve actually taken permits, they have also successfully gained insurance in that space.”
Nichols added that the process is straightforward and in line with the policy of other councils. However, City of Bayswater councilor Cornish was shocked by the response.
“That is just so harsh – I mean, how is a resident meant to go and get (insurance) over what is public land?” he said. “In Bayswater, any resident can do whatever they want on their verge in terms of planting things, including raised garden beds. They don’t need approval, they don’t need to get insurance because we’ve sorted that out.”
More than two years ago, Bayswater removed the requirements for permits or insurance – enabling residents to grow verge gardens similar to those in UFS. In fact, a number of other Australian councils also provide public liability insurance for verge gardens, including the City of Sydney and the Waverley Council in New South Wales. While some of these councils do require residents to apply for a permit, Bayswater simply asks residents to follow a short set of guidelines.
“Keep the two meters next to the road flat if you don’t already have a footpath there for pedestrians, don’t have poisonous plants, and other than that, people can do whatever they want,” he said. “It just makes so much sense to make productive use of our assets, and the land on the verges is an asset. Let’s use it productively.”
Still, Nichols said the SCC has been very supportive of the UFS’ “fantastic initiative,” and has worked with the community to sort out issues since last November. She said the SCC would even be open to more parts of the Sunshine Coast getting on board with the project.
“The issue is that we want to set some standards for how it is rolled out – what it looks like, how safe it is – and we do that through a permit system that’s governed by our local laws,” Nichols said.