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Google map of Barangaroo & other iconic sites nearby.

Google map of Barangaroo & other iconic sites nearby.

Barangaroo is an iconic harbourside area in the City of Sydney that is being redeveloped. It is of important historical significance. The western promenade more so, because what is put there will showcase what the NSW government wants to show the world. One would therefore think representing the area’s heritage & character to the millions of local & foreign visitors is a top priority.

I was horrified to read an article in the Sun-Herald that an avenue of more than 100 American Honey locust trees (Gledistia triacanthos) are being planned for this iconic site.  See – http://bit.ly/1JCoSBN   It says that local landscape architects have written to the NSW Premier Baird to intervene to stop the planting.

Native to North America, the Honey locust is a rapid growing deciduous tree that grows to 20-metres. In October to November it blooms with creamy-yellow hanging flower stalks that develop into 20-30 cm long brown seedpods. It produces prolific seeds.

The tree is covered with large 3-10 cm thorns. There are so-called ‘thornless’ varieties, but these tend to produce thorns eventually. Their large thorny branches have a tendency to drop in windstorms.

They spread through the droppings of animals, carried in water flows or by suckering. There is a real risk that their seeds will be carried all around Sydney Harbour.

The species is a major invasive weed in many Australian areas.  The State of Queensland started an eradication program in 1993.   Honey locust trees cannot be sold anywhere in Queensland & all trees discovered must be destroyed.  They are also a problem on the NSW North Coast.

The Australian government’s Environment Department describes the species as an aggressive exotic tree. It says, “Although beneficial in the short term as stock feed, the long term consequences of its growth & spread are counter productive.  Honey locust is an invasive tree capable of out-competing & replacing native vegetation.”

They are described as being able to spread at an uncontrollable rate. Bulldozing them only serves to help them spread as they vigorously regrow from their broken trunks. Poisoning with herbicides is the recommended method of killing them.

They are not an appropriate tree for this harbourside location.

The NSW government department (Barangaroo Delivery Authority) seems to have uncritically accepted the choice without any thinking of its own. For such an iconic area of Sydney, I would have thought Australian native trees could have been planted. Instead we will get thorny exotic trees declared a noxious weed in some parts of Australia.

I would have expected the government department responsible for delivering such an important piece of public infrastructure to have been a good deal more astute when it received this recommendation from a foreign-based consultant, as opposed to slavishly accepting it. I hope the NSW Premier listens to the desperate calls from the local experts & stops the planting.

Thorns of a Honey locust tree - decalred as a Class 1 Pest Plant in Queensland.  Photo by Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry Biosecurity Queensland - used with thanks.

Thorns of a Honey locust tree – declared as a Class 1 Pest Plant in Queensland.   I can’t imagine they will plant these, but even non-thorny varietties eventually do grow thorns.  Photo by Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry Biosecurity Queensland – used with thanks.

The evening opened up with an Extraordinary Council Meeting about our Sister City relationship with the island of Madeira, which was recently struck by flood & landslides killing 42 & injuring 250 people.

Discussion covered recognising the devastating effects of this & other recent natural disasters, Council’s poor financial position, the lack of financial capability to reciprocate to an equal level when representatives from Sister Cities visit Marrickville, the large numbers of Sister Cities we have & whether this should be reduced (imagine, “sorry sister, it’s goodbye”) & developing a policy regarding financial assistance to Sister Cities when Council is having problems financially supporting its own services.

The motion was carried to donate $5,000 from the Sister Cities budget to help with rebuilding the affected area. Mayor Iskandar had the deciding vote.

Then came the Development Assessment Meeting.  One wouldn’t think that DAs are interesting unless they directly concern you, but actually they are.

There were DAs for single block developments, shops & large residential housing.  The gallery was full & some residents waited for 2 hours to speak.  The following is my impressions & thoughts:

People from both sides feel quite passionate & emotional about DAs.  Some were frustrated by the time required for the DA process.

Local residents were concerned about developments they felt would significantly change the streetscape in terms of set-back & visual impact. Height, noise, parking, privacy & loss of light were other issues causing concern.

I have seen these issues raised many times both inside & outside Council meetings.  People who become involved by attending Council meetings, signing petitions or lobbying against certain DAs hold the streetscape of the Inner West in high regard & they want to retain it.  It appears that some people new to the area & developers want to build more modern buildings & this causes a conflict with the other residents.

Given that these developments are being built, I don’t think it will be too many years before the visual outlook of great chunks of Marrickville LGA will be significantly changed.  Unlike Haberfield, which has decreed no modern buildings will be allowed & heritage will be protected at all cost, Marrickville LGA does not seem to have a policy like this.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if a DA ticks all the boxes, it is up to the councillors as to whether it gets approved.  Naturally, the Councillors have differing perceptions of taste & beliefs as to what constitutes appropriate outlook, as well as what should be knocked down.  Many cherished buildings considered heritage by the Marrickville Heritage Society & other authorities have been demolished over the years.

Last night one developer said the plans for a large  residential development were “unashamedly contemporary,” yet the area this development is situated is one of the most historical in the LGA in terms of housing, other buildings, parks, trees & other historical infrastructure. I see some box-like buildings plonked next to softer, filigree terraces, but I belong to Marrickville Historical Society, so of course I prefer the older buildings.

Only last week Paul Keating said on Lateline, “Well, I can’t teach you good taste” when speaking about the 60 storey glass hotel in red planned for a finger pier at Barangaroo. Interesting that I liked much of the proposed development, but not this particular building.

streetscape

I mention the issue of development & taste because our suburbs are changing.  Marrickville LGA is about to embark on major new development & much of it will be high-rise.  A lot will get through because the state government wants us to have housing for something like another 10,000 people & frankly Marrickville Council desperately needs the money which comes from Section 94 contributions (what the developers pay to Council).

The Councillors need our input either directly or via community lobby groups.  Mayor Iskandar said this in both Marrickville Matters & the Inner West Courier recently.  He also said that the changes coming would affect the community for at least the next 25 years.  If we don’t let the Councillors know what we don’t want, then we will have to accept what the developers give us.

Very soon, a DA for a Backpackers in Addison Road Enmore will come before Council.  This is a 130 plus bed establishment with 7 parking spaces, 2 of them designated Disabled Parking.  Is this of consequence?  Judging by the speakers last night & other recent community action regarding the proposed development on the old Marrickville RSL site, parking is a huge issue in people’s minds.  Council is passing DAs where residents question the parking ratio & sincerely believe parking opportunities will be worse with the new development.

It’s changing times.  Denser living will further impact on parking.  Backpackers often have sufficient funds to buy a car & most residences have at least one car & sometimes more than two.  Council & the government are encouraging public transport use, but living close to a railway station really doesn’t have much of an impact on vehicle ownership yet.  Perhaps later it will when petrol becomes costlier.  For now, there is the problem with a transport system that is already deemed inadequate.  It’s all food for thought.

Moving to trees, a DA at 23 West Street was passed last night.  This site will have 8 double storey modern townhouses built on a block where there are two 9 metre Council protected Canary Island Palm trees & a Fiddle Leafed Fig tree on the boundary of the back property.  Council’s own report stated that Canary Island Palm trees only live for 15-40 years so the development would ‘outlive’ them.  In fact, these trees generally live for 150-160 years, which is an enormous difference.

The Councillors agreed these 2 trees will be relocated to the back of the development, stipulating the root protection zone of the Fig tree will also be protected.  This is a good thing, though I’m sorry we will lose the Palms from the streetscape, which has or is about to lose 31 trees on the opposite side of the street.  Change.

It was good to hear that Palms relocated at Enmore Park for the swimming pool development are doing well.

Another DA passed was 63 Grove Street St Peters which will erect 34 double storey dwellings.  2 mature trees will be removed, yet the landscaping is great.  They intend to plant 10 trees capable of growing to 15 metres, 19 trees reaching 5 metres, 9 trees reaching 7 metres, 10 trees reaching 8 metres & 46 trees reaching 5 metres.  94 trees in total.  They also intend to preserve the current street trees.  I wish all developments planted this percentage of tall growing trees.

One final point of interest is that various sites across Marrickville LGA are considered contaminated, so don’t eat the dirt.  There is some serious toxic stuff around from poor industry practices in the past & dumping.  Like toxins that live on to create problems decades later, we need to think if an upcoming development will also be like that & whether we want to be involved in community consultation to shape our community for the better.

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