2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville

2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville

This sign was installed  by Marrickville Council.

This sign was installed by Marrickville Council.

I think it is laughable that a large organisation who has purchased another organisation, completely changes the way they do business and then after enraging the community, decides to do community consultation.  This is what is happening with Ausgrid, which is owned by the NSW government.

Prior to Ausgrid, we had Energy Australia managing our electricity supply.  The business name has changed, but not the service the company provides.

It’s like having a deli on the main street for 60-years.  Then the business is sold & it continues to operate as a deli, except under new management.  For 60-years this deli  was famous for selling a wide range of quality cheese.  However, the new owners chose not to have a wide range of cheese, only stocking cheddar for sale.  It’s still a deli, but what it offers has changed.

Now that might not be the best analogy, but this is what I feel has happened with the transfer of management of Energy Australia to Ausgrid in terms of street tree pruning.

  • Energy Australia pruned the street trees on a 7-8 year cycle.
  • Ausgrid prunes the street trees on an 18-month cycle.

Does this mean that Energy Australia provided an inferior & dangerous service to the community for all those years?  I don’t think so at all.

While Energy Australia was not immune to butchering street trees, they did not do it as a matter of course.  Since Ausgrid has taken over management, the state of street trees all over their area of control in Sydney is deplorable.   It’s not unusual to see the street trees in sections of streets looking as though they have been through a war.

And the community has been complaining loudly.

After their initial round of pruning, it appears that Ausgrid do a few street trees in a street, then come back at a later date to do the others.  I presume this is to somewhat mitigate the look of destruction it leaves behind.

Ausgrid calls what it does “tree trimming.”  I would debate this.  “Trimming” sounds gentle & nothing like the savage butchering well below the service cable for Pay TV & even further below the electricity cables.

IMPORTANT:  I would like to state clearly that I am not focusing on or criticising the workers who do the tree pruning.  They do what the company tells them to do to.

Ausgrid clearly has different opinions on what is safe clearance from electricity cables than did the previous energy supplier Energy Australia.  Yet, we did not have electrical fires breaking out all over the place, as is the explanation for the brutal tree pruning on Ausgrid’s website.   We are keeping you safe is their message & that is hard to argue against unless you ask why Energy Australia managed to prune the street trees differently & still keep us safe.

Ausgrid needs to expand on their perception of “safe.”  Increasingly researchers all over the world are publishing about the urban heat island effect, deaths from heatwaves, mental health deterioration & increased respiratory illness & fatal heart attacks in areas that have a poor urban forest.

The street where I live had street trees that reached the top of the power poles for the two decades that we have lived here & it was the same for all the streets around us.  There were no fires. There was no loss of power supply.  Service was stable & all this through a number of major storms, including the incredibly damaging hail storm in April 1999 & the major storms of June 2007 & February 2010.

Ausgrid took over from Energy Australia in March 2011 & my street is a shadow of its former self.

We lost shade, we lost beauty (because our street trees were beautiful) & we lost bird life.  We are now a street with power poles poking metres above savaged street trees & every time Ausgrid visits, more branches are lost.

The urban forest is a mix of street trees, park trees & private trees.  Our area, the old Marrickville municipality, has –

  • the least green space in Australia – so we are not getting much benefit from trees in parks unless we go to the parks on a regular basis & stay there for a while.
  • Land lots are small & often not suitable for a decent sized tree. Therefore, the dependence on street trees – green leafy streets – is substantial in the Inner West.
  • In 2015 Marrickville municipality was rated “poor” in terms of its urban forest with a canopy cover of just 16.3%.
  • Marrickville was also also found to be the unhappiest community in Australia according to Deakin University’s Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.

Can poor happiness levels relate to the lack of canopy, to poor street trees & to the lack of green space?  Yes, I believe it can & that it does.

This is backed up by research published by The Forestry Commission of Great Britain called, ‘Trees, People & the Built Environment.’   The results of the study show that our trees are not just something to make an area look nice but they may actually be making people happier.  See – http://bit.ly/S8fjpR

So, with all this in mind, think about the impact Ausgrid’s new street tree pruning practices are having on our urban forest & how this flows on to the community’s health, our increased risk of a range of illnesses & disease starting from childhood & even death.   It is a serious public health issue & I have not even mentioned climate change yet.

Climate change is breaking all the records for increased & unseasonal temperatures.  Every year it is harder to be out on the streets in the middle of the day.  If we don’t have sufficient street trees with a decent canopy, then we are going to suffer.  We are already suffering.  Some of us will die from the heat.  It is as simple as that.

Research by the University of Oxford published in July 2016 found that –

  • “Scientists have specified how many deaths can be attributed to human-made climate change during an extreme heatwave. Researchers calculate that in Paris, the hottest city in Europe during the heatwave in summer 2003, 506 out of 735 summer deaths recorded in the French capital were due to a heatwave made worse by human-made climate change. The impact was less severe in London, with an additional 64 deaths out of a total of 315 heat-related deaths.”

The paper says the mortality rate attributed to human-made climate change in both these cities is notably high, but they are just two of a large number of cities that were affected by the heatwave that year. It suggests that the resulting total number of deaths across Europe due to climate change is likely to be substantially higher.  See – http://bit.ly/2cJ5gXx

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that “between 540 & 760 deaths could be attributed to the ongoing spell of hot weather” over a 9-day period in July 2013. See –   http://bit.ly/2cKDkUo

139 deaths due to heat occurred in Victoria Australia in January 2014.  Victoria suffered another heatwave in 2009 resulting in 374 deaths. See –  http://bit.ly/M0XGps

Research published in 2016 by Lancaster University found that –

  • “Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in human brains in “abundant” quantities.”
  • Air pollution is a global health crisis that kills more people than malaria and HIV/Aids combined and it has long been linked to lung and heart disease and strokes. But research is uncovering new impacts on health, including degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mental illness & reduced intelligence.” See – http://bit.ly/2bOMXew

This is truly alarming & should be also alarm the NSW government.  They constantly tell us that they are terribly worried about the cost of caring for people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

Particulate matter from air pollution has been shown to significantly increase incidence of this disease.  So what picks up harmful particulate matter?  Trees of course!  So once again, street trees are a public health issue.

If the government wants to get control of the increasing health care costs of the community, they should provide local councils with the funds to greatly increase the urban forest.  This spending will, as the trees grow & start to become more useful, start to impact on all kinds of health issues ranging from obesity, respiratory & cardiac illness, depression & Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s a no brainer. 

  • Stop ripping out the trees for development or parking lots for WestConnex,
  • Stop the energy companies from destroying the viability & usefulness of the street trees &
  • Provide sufficient funds to allow suburbs with poor canopies to start to look like other more wealthlier suburbs across Sydney. Often the housing is similar – it is the streetscapes that are radically different.  We already know that poorer suburbs tend to have less tree cover.

I’ve often wondered whether it has been a deliberate initiative to keep some suburbs more affordable by having less tree cover & unattractive streetscapes.  Unfortunately, this is being blurred by the soaring housing costs in Sydney where even a shabby house in an unattractive street is being purchased for $1 million plus.  Even so, I think some might use housing prices as their argument why I am incorrect in my observations.

I say to the NSW government – instead of whinging on the nightly news about how the government will pay for health care in an ageing population, take action to give people the quality of life while they are living, from the cradle onwards.   Give them a decent urban forest with a great tree canopy cover, so that the air that they breathe is not harming them by creating a range of physical & mental health issues.   Keep many of the community out of hospital by making our city green.

Ausgrid’s website (http://bit.ly/2cJ4aeB) says –

To help improve our services we undertook an engagement program that –

  • aimed to understand our community’s interests,
  • develop a shared understanding of the need for managing trees growing under powerlines and near other infrastructure on our electricity network and
  • help to improve the way Ausgrid performs this work in the future.”

Now Ausgrid is showing that they are listening to the myriad complaints from both the community & local councils by holding community consultation via a working group.  And as is usual with community consultation, if we do not participate, then it is business as usual. Any further complaints are met with – well we held community consultation & didn’t get much in the way of negative feedback, so what can we do.  We are keeping you safe…blah, blah, blah.

The working group –  “… includes nine community members as well as representatives from local government areas including Parramatta, Burwood, Botany Bay, Cessnock, Canterbury-Bankstown, City of Sydney, Cumberland, Hornsby Shire, Hunters Hill, Inner West, Ku-ring-gai, Lake Macquarie, Mosman, Newcastle City, North Sydney, Northern Beaches, Port Stephens, Randwick, Strathfield, Sutherland, Willoughby and Woollahra; the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Local Government NSW, Local Government Tree Resource Association, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Arboriculture Australia, NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman and the Energy Networks Association.”

The working group will meet four times between August & December 2016.

So, if the state of the street tree pruning bothers you (It bothers Marrickville Council) & if you care about your own & your family’s health, take up their offer & leave feedback at the Inner West Council – council@marrickville.nsw.gov.au  Then Council will have something from the community to take to these meetings.  If enough of us participate, we may actually be able to effect positive change, though it may take decades for some of the trees to look good again.

I hope that Ausgrid does more than listen & that it makes significant changes to its tree pruning standards.   Sydney needs street trees now more than ever with Sydney’s population over 5-million.  Trees, the urban forest canopy will become more important than ever.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.

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