Woodford land clearing: $100,000 fine

A Woodford couple has been fined just over $100,000 in Katoomba Local Court for offences including illegal land clearing, with the magistrate electing to send a "necessary message" to residents to obey local government laws.

Contrary to the 10/50 Code of Practice:  The clearing of native vegetation around the Woodford property was visible from the highway. They removed some five long lived woody perennial plants

Contrary to the 10/50 Code of Practice: The clearing of native vegetation around the Woodford property was visible from the highway. They removed some five long lived woody perennial plants

Lyn McKenzie, of 18-20 Old Bathurst Road, had pleaded guilty to “do thing forbidden to be done under [the Environmental Planning and Assessment] Act” of 1979 after admitting to clearing five large trees on their land. She was convicted of a similar offence a decade ago.

Her husband, David McKenzie, also pleaded guilty to three counts under the Act. It relates to him having illegal shelters and shipping containers, turning a carport into a home office and converting a garage into a building with bathroom and deck.

Blue Mountains City Council took the couple to court after they allegedly cleared 1400 square metres of native vegetation at their property in 2016. 

At an earlier hearing barrister Dr James Smith, representing council, tendered photographs showing a tree-lined escarpment and the damage afterwards. Magistrate Fiona Toose indicated she agreed with Dr James who had said the McKenzies’ actions had undermined the planning processes of the Mountains.

Ms Toose said the fine sent a "necessary message of general deterrence" to the community. She rejected dealing with the matter under the Mental Health Act. 

Ms Toose also dismissed the argument that Mrs McKenzie was confused about the 10/50 land clearing rules brought in by the state government after the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires. Ms Toose said Mrs McKenzie "should have been on high alert" to land clearing issues, having been previously fined.

"She relied on her contractor and didn't turn her mind to council approval. I have some difficulty in accepting that," Ms Toose said in her sentencing on February 26.

Barrister Frances Lalic, representing the couple, said much of the development had been retrospectively approved and the pair had spent $80,000 remediating the gardens. 

But in fact in late November the retrospective development application for the car garage, workshop and carport was refused by council. The couple has taken the matter to the Land and Environment Court.

The couple faced a maximum penalty of $220,000 ($110,000 each) for the offences under local court legislation. Their fines include more than $30,920 in council's professional legal fees and must be paid before the end of the month.

The couple did not appear in court for the sentencing as they were attending a funeral. Ms Lalic could not say whether they would appeal the local court sentence.

Outside the court a council spokesman said he was pleased with the sentencing.