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Sometimes I get annoyed with Marrickvile Council & sometimes I think they do such fantastic things for our environment that I want to become their publicity officer. Today was the latter. It is National Tree Day.
Council arranged a National Tree Day working bee for members of the community to volunteer by planting the new area currently being renovated at Steele Park, Illawarra Road Marrickville South alongside the Cooks River.
My initial impression when I arrived was one of astonishment. I had been expecting to see a small area that was to be a salt-water wetland. Instead before me were large decorative swales, at least 2 of them, with a couple more being built. One looks like a heart before it takes a winding route under a new pedestrian/bike path/bridge before reaching the Cooks River. The car park has been removed, the soil has been landscaped to facilitate the swales & new trees have been planted.
Council supplied gloves & spades & put on a barbeque. We were given on-the-spot OH&S training before we joined around 60-100 other people to plant native grasses, ferns, shrubs & seedling trees. The work was easy because the soil was wet after the recent rain. It looked like 4/5ths of the plants were in the ground by the time we left.
If you haven’t done this before, I’d recommend it as a nice way to spend a couple of hours. People were friendly, the work was not back-breaking & the food was probably good, though we didn’t stay for that part. It was good to take part in beautifying this part of Marrickville.
There are a number of environmental programs in Marrickville LGA that rely on volunteers. For information contact Marrickville Council’s Biodiversity Coordinator 9335-2222.
I predict Marrickville Council will win awards for the landscaping & environmental work at Steele Park. When they do, I’ll post a reminder to say I said it first. If this is any indication of what the waterplay section is going to be like, Steele Park is going to be beautiful. As I write this it is raining – excellent for today’s new plants.
The Hornsby Advocate wrote last week about a brilliant new stormwater management plan by Hornsby Council to filter stormwater & water street trees at the same time. Hornsby Council will install 3 tree-pits. These tree-pits capture stormwater from specially installed gutters. The stormwater is then filtered through soil, sand & gravel.
It’s such a simple idea, one wonders why this technique hasn’t been used before & why it isn’t put in place with all new street tree plantings. It would certainly go a long way to preventing tree deaths due to lack of water.
The paper published a diagram of the tree pits. Unfortunately I can’t post the picture here due to copyright, but it is well worth a look.
Community tree preservation groups Save Our Figs Wauchope & Save Our Figs Group have a big fight on their hands with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council who intend to remove 13 Fig trees in the town centre “to prevent future damage to private property & public infrastructure.” The roots of the Fig trees are presenting a trip hazard & 3 residents have complained of damage to their property they say was caused by the trees.
Thing is, the Council have just completed major works on the streets with the trees described as the centerpiece. Importantly, 3 years ago the community fought to retain these trees & won.
Now the threat of litigation has reared its head & if history is anything to go by, a very small number of people are going to get their way & have the trees removed. Council can’t take the risk that people will start litigation in the future.
A couple of days ago I posted that Goondiwindi Regional Council chopped down healthy Fig trees despite community opposition. It’s the same story. Now that the trees are gone, the Council has made the decision to spend $96,000 on floating footpaths. They are doing this now because they, “understand how important these trees are to residents.”
Using floating footpaths means the trees can grow normally. There is no need to cut off or shave down roots, nor cover them in bitumen. Nor will they need to chop the trees down because of a trip hazard or damage to footpaths. Seems like sensible spending to me. Given that any large healthy tree can be worth around $100,000, spending money to keep them is a good economic decision.
The large street trees in the centre of both these towns are what bring beauty & a sense of place. The towns use their street trees as a tourist draw card. The Fig trees also provide a tangible history & are held dear by most of the community.
Take the trees away & you have substantially changed a place. Not only have you removed things that are worth a great deal of money & with 13 Figs we are talking in excess of a million dollars, but their loss will have an impact on spending in the shops. Researchers have concluded 11% more money is spent in shopping areas where there are big healthy shady trees. To their credit Port Macquarie-Hastings Council plans to replace the Figs with 11 advanced Brush Box trees.
My question is why don’t Councils or organizations take pre-emptive action on their big trees when the trees are in areas that could damage property or cause trip hazards? Ultimately it is worth the financial outlay when one considers how much these trees are worth in a monetary sense. Then there are all the other factors to take into consideration, history, place, future, community cohesion (fights like these in small towns could escalate into severe divisions), trust in the Council/organisation & stating the obvious, climate change.
Root barriers can be put in place. Sewerage & water pipes can be replaced with pipes that can’t be invaded by tree roots or re-routed & be done with the problem forever. In Canada, they use a system that allows pipes to be replaced without digging, disturbing or damaging tree roots. They use a water flushing vacuum system to remove the soil from around the roots, pipes or wires, then install the new pipes & put the soil back in.
You don’t even need to put in concrete foundations near a tree when you are building anymore. Again in Canada, they insert giant steel screw piles into the ground that are just as stable as concrete foundations & require no digging.
There is also a high-density plastic grid system that I have seen used in Sydney. Once laid over the ground the grid disperses the weight of vehicles over a larger area. The grid also prevents soil compaction, which can damage roots. Best of all, the grid allows rainwater to permeate the soil, reducing the need for irrigation & improves storm-water management. Ground cover or other plants can be grown in the spaces within the grid.
The grid also prevents soil erosion. I can see these grids used to support riverbanks & to create cement-free car parks. They could also be used to channel water into the ground near a street tree rather than be wasted by pouring down drains. There is no reason why a section of the gutter cannot be a grid.
There is also porous concrete used across City of Sydney & North Sydney Councils. Porous concrete provides a seamless surface allowing people to walk across it, but still captures any rainwater that falls on it, watering the tree.
There are quite a number of beautiful Figs in Marrickville LGA & many of them are planted near buildings. Unfortunately many of these trees live in less than perfect conditions with cement & bitumen almost to the base of their trunk. Many have cars & trucks parked right next to them. As we have seen, it is only a matter of time before branches get gouged or broken off by trucks.
The only reason why money isn’t spent on protecting trees before problems start is that trees are not held in high importance or the Council is so strapped for money that understandably, urban forest issues get moved down the list of priorities.
Many Councils do hold their trees in high esteem & look after them. They use floating footpaths & permeable rubber surfaces or permeable ‘solid’ surfaces. They put garden beds around trees to prevent or limit the amount of vehicles that can park under them. They put ‘no parking’ signs for vehicles over a certain size & weight & they do other things like prune dead branches & normal die back. They probably feed them occasionally as well.
I would do all of the above & if property damage occurred with people saying get rid of the tree/s, I would think it is the community’s & Council’s best interest to fix the damage (within reason, once proof & access has been given to Council) & put things in place to ensure the problem won’t repeat itself. Too many people & future generations miss out for cracks to walls & pipes, both which are easily fixed without costing as high as the value of losing a tree.
Trees are the only things Councils own that increase in value each year.
I have written about clay soils & how they affect buildings at – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/clay-soil/
You can read both stories at the following links -http://www.portnews.com.au/news/local/news/general/lastditch-figs-effort/1874281.aspx
Tuesday’s Council meeting was perhaps one of the most important meetings of the year as the Asset Management Strategy Policy was on the agenda. This report was recommending to increase rates, always a hot issue when it hits the public purse.
Money was central to most of the issues on the agenda from a donation to Haiti, whether to spend money on Addison Road or on Marrickville Railway Station, to giving the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville financial assistance of $5,000 to quieten down their new digital bells & to the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Council staff. There may have been more, but we did not stay until the end.
Many residents are aware that Marrickville Council doesn’t have the money to fix things as most requests from the community take a long while before they reach the top of the list of the actions council is taking. Staff & councillors have openly said to me on a number of occasions that Council just doesn’t have the money to do certain projects. For me, it was obvious when reading through last week’s Tree Management Issues Paper that Parks & Gardens have been functioning under-resourced & under-financed for many years. After what I heard discussed last night, I would not be surprised if many departments in Council are experiencing the same restrictions. Put simply, Marrickville Council finances are in trouble.
In brief, the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Marrickville Council staff said:
- Marrickville Council cannot afford to look after its infrastructure & assets & was listed as an ‘unsustainable council’ in 2009
- Council’s financial unsustainability was not going to improve unless they improved their financial position significantly with one option being to increase rates.
A staff member said that the reason the report was before Council was because:
- the serious condition of our assets with significant issues facing Marrickville Council 2010-2011
- Size & scale of financial deficit is substantial. The draft budget first cut figure is $2 million deficit having carried through Phase 1 & 2 reductions to the budget
- There are a lot of unknowns if the issue is deferred for another year
Marrickville Council does not have enough money to repair its assets or maintain its infrastructure. A recent & public example is the old & beautiful Coptic Church in Sydenham Green, which featured in Council in 2009 & again last week.
A staff member of Council explained to me that a community organisation can apply to use the church, though they would need to sign a lease for a number of years & renovate the building themselves at an estimated cost of $2.3 million, as well as look after its upkeep for the duration of the lease before it comes back into Council’s hands again. The problem is that the community organisations or groups that council would see as suitable to use the church building are unlikely to be able to pay for the repair of this particular building which is deteriorating at a rapid rate. The Inner West Courier published an article about this church this week – page 9 -http://digitaledition-innercity.innerwestcourier.com.au/
The Asset Management Strategy Policy was recommending that the councillors decide whether or not to apply to the minister for a rates increase (special levy).
The debate between councillors covered the history of some projects & of previous applications for rates increases, how much public works actually cost (eg $350,000 for paving in Dulwich Hill shopping strip, $15,000 for a speed hump, $35,000 for a round-about) & about the financial burden of servicing 1 billion dollars worth of infrastructure before you even build anything new.
Despite the importance of the issue & the strong views held by councillors, the meeting was polite. There was negligible need for the chair to intervene.
The flow of the discussion allowed the councillors to ask many questions to the staff & I was impressed by the extensive & considered strategic advice they offered. They explained how these processes work, what is the financial situation of council, what could be done with any additional funds in the kitty & what might be done if council did not apply for the special levy.
Councillors expressed concern about the financial status of council. As expected, there was divergent opinion as to the best way to manage this situation. I am deliberately lumping comments & strategies together to keep this brief. Apologies for any mistakes.
The Greens expressed concern that Council was in dire financial straits & if left until next year, the situation would only worsen reminding that this issue has been deferred for many years. They believed if the community was asked whether they would pay about $1.60 per week per household or 96 cents per week for lower income households for better roads, better footpaths & better infrastructure, the majority of rate-payers would say yes. They were also worried about Council’s ability to pay staff & ability to maintain the substantial assets we have. They wanted the money raised to be used for priority infrastructure renewal works. They also reminded everyone that it has been 5 years since the last rate increase. They also argued that if left until next year, councillors will be afraid to pass a rate increase because of fearing community backlash with the upcoming election.
The remaining councillors wanted to defer the decision for another year saying that while they were concerned about Council’s financial situation, they wanted to know whether there were other cost saving measures & revenue accruing avenues that could be explored before going the route of raising rates. Some suggestions were closing some of the libraries, advertising on billboards facing the airport road at Tempe, life-cycle planning, community consultation with residents, continuing to educate council staff on safe work practices to reduce worker’s compensation payouts, looking at verge mowing & paid parking, increasing fees to use sports ovals & child-care facilities, getting rid of unnecessary programs & operations & selling off the Marrickville Hospital site (council has not made a decision about its future for some while).
The vote by Councillors Iskandar, O’Sullivan, Wright, Thanos, Hanna, Macri was to defer for 12 months.
We went to Berowra Waters today, which required driving up the Pacific Highway. The last time I did this I wrote about the street trees. This time I wanted to see specifically what the differences were between the Pacific Highway & the sections of Princes Highway & Parramatta Road in Marrickville LGA.
There were a number of noteworthy differences. The Pacific Highway has thousands of street trees along its length. A significant number of these trees are Eucalypts. They cascade over the highway, many having branches which cross over 3 lanes & sometimes as far as the opposite side of the highway.
Bottle Brushes are not the dominant street tree, with most trees being of a taller growing species. Many of the street trees are 1/3 higher than the power poles & thick trunks are quite common.
Far less than 50% of the trees have trunks that are as thin as an upper arm. Many street trees were planted around 3 metres apart, which helped create a decent canopy. Most of the trees have a natural shape & I did not see a single tree in a cage even within the shopping strips
The street trees planted in shopping strips spilled out from under the awnings & loomed over the highway. Naturally to achieve this they did not have straight trunks & they have not removed because of this.
Much of the Pacific Highway has a grass verge with a narrow footpath. Only the shopping strips are paved or cemented. The grass verge serves to soften the environment, which is quite an achievement considering the Pacific Highway is one of the top 10 heavily trafficked roads in Australia. I watched the verge of the Highway for its length wondering how they were managing with far less cement. I noticed the footpaths were narrower than in the Inner West & many trees hung over the path requiring any pedestrians to either duck or weave their way around the tree. I actually saw this happen & it appeared to cause no difficulty for the pedestrian who was a woman over 50. So very different from here, where just last week a council worker took to our fence with a whipper-snipper to hack away 20 centimetres of errant camellia which protruded out from under the fence. Considering the footpath outside our fence is a wide one for the area, I thought this was overkill.
So do we sanitise & control nature more than they do on Sydney’s North Shore? I think we do.
In direct opposition is our section of the Princes Highway & Parramatta Road, both of which are an eye-sore in my opinion. The Princes Highway cannot possibly get uglier & being so close to the airport, it is one of the gateways to Sydney. The roads directly surrounding the airport were heavily planted with street trees, shrubs & flowers for the 2000 Olympics. In the main, they still look good & are maintained by Botany Council. I doubt once the visitor leaves these roads & comes to the Princes Highway that they will have a favourable impression of the area. The Princes Highway is in the main a worship of cement. Soot stained, dirty cement. One can count the street trees & they are a sad, straggly lot. There is a gross lack of green infrastructure. This changes when the Princes Highway comes under the jurisdiction of City of Sydney Council at one end & Rockdale Council at the other. For a green council, Marrickville seems to be ignoring this stretch of highway.
The same can be said for Parramatta Road, which is stark in its lack of green infrastructure, though it is slightly less ugly than the Princes Highway because of the type of grey infrastructure (some may debate this). Again, Leichhardt Council & City of Sydney Council have planted threes where Parramatta Road comes under their control, though City of Sydney Council has done far more work & planted many more street trees. If City of Sydney, Rockdale & Leichhardt Councils can plant street trees along these main roads, why can’t Marrickville Council?
Why do we need so much cement? Trees help the longevity of grey infrastructure like cement footpaths because their shade protects from the harsh sun. We also know that roofs, roads & footpaths cause the heat island effect & trees lower this. Temperatures can be 9 degrees cooler in the shade of a tree.
The North Shore is deemed classier. I think this is not because of the housing stock, but because of the plentiful tall trees & the significant green canopy. Friends have told me they moved to the North Shore because of the trees. Balmain & Paddington were built as working class suburbs as were those in Marrickville LGA, yet both these suburbs are regarded as better suburbs & their properties are generally worth more. Why? Is it the presence of water? Being close to the city? Perhaps, but Marrickville LGA is also close to the city & has its own beautiful Cooks River.
I think it is because of the trees. On the drive back from Hornsby, the closer you get to Marrickville the more you notice the trees thin out, get shorter, look less healthy & street tree after street tree have been severely hacked. The trees on the North Shore aren’t hacked in this way.
What concerns me about the removal of street trees when they have been accused of causing damage to property is the following:
- We have just experienced a long & protracted drought & more than 3/4s of NSW is still regarded as drought-affected. The long-range weather forecasters say we have entered into another phase of drought. The Inner West has been affected, as has the whole of the Sydney metropolitan region. This drought has resulted in severe water restrictions & this has affected our soils to a great degree. Trees are stressed & quite a few have died within our local LGA. Many of the saplings Council plants do not survive the summer because they are not watered. This must result in significant financial loss to Council.
- Even though we had quite a bit of rain over winter, we are still on water restrictions. The park trees were able to capture much of the water when it rained, but our street trees have only a slight chance at getting a proper drink. Most of the street trees in our LGA have been given very little ability to capture rain water or storm water run-off. Most have a small opening left open amidst the cement or
bitumen. I have only seen 4-5 street trees planted in cement where I feel they have been given adequate soil space around them to give them a fighting chance to capture rainwater. Two were in a back street of Newtown & I doubt Council did this, as the kerb had been removed. Both these trees had a lot of soil around their trunk. The other example is new plantings bordered by raised brickwork on Unwins Bridge Road Tempe. I think it would be wonderful if all our street trees that are in cemented areas could be planted in this way. I would also very much like to see Council give funding for the watering of young street trees as they do in other Councils.
- Much of the Inner West is built on clay soils. Clay soils are quite volatile as they shrink when they do not get sufficient water & expand when there is too much water. Both these extremes affect the foundations of buildings & footpaths. The term Seasonal Fluctuations describes the normal variations of the moisture content of clay soils through the seasons. When clay soil gets a lot of water it is called Field Capacity. When the soil is dry due to evaporation, heat & lack of rain during drought it is called Desiccated & suffering from Soil Moisture Deficit. If a drought is lengthy & the soil does not return to Field Capacity after some rain & then enters into another dry period, it is called Persistent or Permanent Moisture Deficit. This is likely to have already occurred in the Inner West or will do during the next period of drought in which we are now entering.
- Soil movements cause what is termed Subsistence & Heave. With Subsistence, the soil moves downwards. With Heave, there is an upwards or lateral move of building foundations or footpaths. While the clay soils go through Seasonal Fluctuations foundations of buildings don’t move much, though that depends on how much clay soil is directly under the foundations. When the clay soil suffers from Persistent Moisture Deficit, foundations of buildings move & walls start to show cracks, paint peels & doors & windows are suddenly off balance. Just last week our front door over night became hard to open & stiff on its swing. It is recommended that you don’t fill in the cracks or shave wood off door or window surrounds when the ground is dry, but wait until the soils have returned to normal moisture content before doing repairs. Most times the doors & windows will realign & the cracks will come closer together though paint work will need repairing. If you do fill cracks while the soil is dry, the space will not be available for the building to move back into place & new cracks will appear, generally on the other side of the building.
- The experts suggest occasional watering of the exterior of the house as this will help keep the clay soil moist so that your foundations don’t move during a drought. In my case, I have been keeping the water up to the back garden, but to save water, I have left the front garden manage as best it can. Here is the reason why our front door has moved. Also, it is our hallway & the front room that are suffering the cracks & peeling paint.
- My research has shown that trees can increase the seasonal movements of clay soil, however, engineers also stress there are too many factors to consider before one blames the presence of a tree for causing the damage. One of the problems is, if a mature tree is removed, this has a major impact on clay soil moisture & the property can actually sustain more damage as the soil fills with water & starts a process of Heave. It is hard to stop Heave because there is no longer a tree to be taking up the excess water. Because it is so difficult to categorically say that tree roots cause damage even if the roots do go towards & under the house, many engineers recommend using water to restore the water levels to clay soils rather than removing the tree. I have read that a tree is not able to lift a house because of the weight of the house. A footpath is a different story.
There are things we can do to minimize or prevent further cracking or movement of buildings which do not involve removing trees. According to eminent scientists, we have entered a dangerous period of existence with CO2 levels actually threatening life on this planet. All agree on the supreme value of trees.
Just today in Copenhagen, the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations & Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research signed an agreement to work together in the field of emissions measuring and reporting by monitoring forests & calculating CO2 sequestration. Essentially they are going to map & monitor the green canopy of forests of the world. This clearly demonstrates the value of trees in dealing with climate change. We should only be removing them after all options have been exhausted.