A resident said with some sarcasm that they were glad Ausgrid at least left some canopy over the street.

A resident said with some sarcasm that they were glad Ausgrid at least left some canopy over the street.

 Despointes Street Marrickville were pruned recently & are a shadow of their former selves. Photo 2012

Despointes Street Marrickville were pruned recently & are a shadow of their former selves. Photo 2012

Power company Ausgrid has until the end of November an online community survey on tree pruning, which covers parts of Sydney, the Central Coast & the Hunter region. They are asking the public to do this survey & I believe if we want to see change in the way our tree assets are being managed, it is in our best interest to participate.

They say that this survey, part of their community engagement program –

  • “aims to understand communities’ interests,
  • develop a shared understanding of the need for tree trimming around the electricity network and
  • help to improve the way Ausgrid performs tree trimming in the future.”

I have done the survey. It is pretty basic & consists of ten questions.

One question asked whether I would be prepared to pay a higher electricity bill in return for Ausgrid taking into consideration how the trees look when they undertake tree pruning. In other words, would I be prepared to pay for trees not to be butchered? This approach begs the question – how did Energy Australia do a better job at pruning our street trees without the need to butcher most trees & why did this not cost the consumer more?

I would like to know how much extra it would cost for tree pruners to do a ro sympathetically prune trees & why? Is it because they would need a few more minutes to assess the tree? I don’t know. These are serious questions in my mind.

Ausgrid says that they spend almost $40 million on “tree trimming.” In the financial years of 2013-2014 Ausgrid is reported to have a net profit after tax of $607.5 million. See –  http://bit.ly/1Q2mmvf   This again makes me wonder why the consumer would need to pay more to have trees pruned sympathetically to retain their amenity & aesthetics, whilst still ensuring safety.

There are important factors with street tree pruning. I agree that electricity supply needs to be safe. However, I can only wonder what has happened with the electricity infrastructure that was not affecting Energy Australia when they managed the system & the trees. Energy Australia pruned on a cycle of around every 7-8 years. Yes it visually hurt when they came to prune, but certainly not on the level that pruning is done these days – though this is strictly my opinion.

I agree that many of the street trees in my municipality are inappropriate for the site. For example, Paperbark trees planted directly under the power lines is a common sight across Marrickville LGA. However, many of these trees were planted 40 plus years ago & they survived pruning well until the change in the power company ownership.

One option in the Ausgrid survey is to work with local councils to remove all inappropriate trees & plant smaller trees.   This is a good idea, but can you imagine what the impact would be on our already poor canopy of 16.3% if there were a mass removal of all street trees that would grow into or near the power lines – or the telecommunications cable, which seems to be so delicate that pruning needs to occur 1-metre below this?

Take a look around you the next time you go out. I would guess that at least half of our street trees would need to be removed.

I can understand the need for safety, but I cannot understand why pruning needs to keep the telecommunications cables clear. Every now & then the media mention the NBN & suggests that some areas will need these cables attached to the power poles. Can you imagine how much lower pruning would need to be if this eventuates?

The only realistic option I can see is a compromise between Ausgrid & the local councils – for the local councils to start a very sensible program of only planting small stature trees under power lines & plant the other side of the street with tall stature trees.

Seems a no-brainer to me, but this has not been done as a norm. Everywhere you look around Marrickville LGA you see tall growing trees planted under the power lines & many of these trees reach 10-metres or more at maturity. Yet the other side of the road is often bare or planted with small trees.

I have often wondered whether this is deliberate in that it provides a good reason to remove a street tree. It is rendered unviable after so much pruning, it has outgrown the space, is causing problems for infrastructure & so on. People tend to become attached to trees. Their attachment only increases as the tree ages & becomes more of a fixture in their life & their view of the area they live in. This can cause problems for the council when a tree or trees are to be removed.

A past staff member of Marrickville Council told me that street trees were only expected to live for 7-years. It was raised to 15-years after I expressed shock.  I am not saying this remains the opinion of Council, but it did highlight to me the disposability of street trees. I do know that both Melbourne City Council & City of Sydney Council plan for public trees to live for decades & that they protect their veteran trees.

Many local councils are planting to attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change & to lower the urban heat island effect. Heat waves are killers. Trees help substantially to lowering heat & providing respite from heat. They also have many more benefits, including filtering air pollution & providing the oxygen we need to breathe. See ‘100 Tree Facts’ in the pages above. We cannot live well without trees & certainly the current research says that the community would have poor mental & physical health without trees. Trees are extremely good for us on many levels & I am not even considering the wildlife in this. For them trees are essential.

Therefore our local councils & Ausgrid need to negotiate a common goal that meets the electricity needs, as well as the health of the community. This can be done without charging the consumer more. I believe this because it was done in the past. The change in the trees species under power lines needs to happen as the tree/s need to be removed, gradually, so that there is not a great loss to the community & the environment. It can be done.

I thank Ausgrid for listening to the complaints from the community about their tree pruning practices & for actively soliciting feedback from us by this survey.

Please consider taking the time to do this survey. You can find it here –

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ausgridtreetrimming

Every Melaleuca tree along Renwick Street now looks like this one. Photo 2014.

Every Melaleuca tree along Renwick Street now looks like this one. Photo 2014.

Street trees are being pruned like this in many parts of Sydney.  This Brushbox is in Canterbury.

Street trees are being pruned like this in many parts of Sydney. This Brushbox is in Canterbury. Photo 2015.

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