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The Marrickville Council Tree Strategy Issues Paper was up for voting last night & what a doozey of a meeting it turned out to be.  It’s clear there are very strong & opposing views about public trees & the community cannot afford to be uninvolved when our turn comes to contribute.

Some good news before I report on this.  Council unanimously & with much enthusiasm voted in favour of the creation of a new community garden in Denison Street Dulwich Hill.  3 residents spoke in favour of setting up a community garden citing the many benefits it will provide to the community. Council then went on to say that any resident can apply to have a community garden set up in any council owned disused space or reserve in the municipality.  There is mention of this on council’s web-site.

Now back to the Trees Strategy Issues Paper (TSIP).  3 residents addressed the meeting.  While each speech addressed different issues, all of us were against the recommendation to remove 1,000 trees per year for the next 5 years.  Although the TSIP says Council intends to plant replacement trees, their own report states a significant percentage of new tree plantings fail.  Since 1972 Marrickville LGA has planted approximately 42,500 street trees.  Today we have 20,000 street trees.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Other points raised that I recall were:

  • Essential that the councillors themselves be knowledgeable about the value & benefits of public trees & tree management before voting to remove 59% of trees within Marrickville LGA.
  • The need for education, communication & consultation with the community about trees.
  • Climate change, the heat island effect, the benefits of trees, the value of mature trees, strategies to look after trees to retain them, history & continuity that mature trees bring, the streetscape & character of Marrickville LGA, supporting increasing the tree canopy, better choice & placement of street trees & the need to care for this significant asset.
  • The recommendation not to establish a Significant Tree Register was also very disappointing, as was the lack of a Tree Inventory.  It is essential the Council knew what its only appreciating asset was & an inventory would serve to keep a record of our history even if trees were removed.
  • The good points were acknowledged as was the work staff had done to prepare the TSIP.

With 3 minutes & a maximum of 6, all 3 of us felt pressed to cover everything needed in this time-frame.  You should try it at least once in your life.  Speaking at Council is much harder than I expected it to be.  You can read my speech here – Speech-MC-9_2_10

Clr Thanos seemed to take affront at the residents’ speeches saying that he was proud of Marrickville, proud of the tree planting that has happened, speaking at length about how we had misunderstood the TSIP.   Well, all 3 of us read it, the Greens understood the same message, as did Labor’s Clr O’Sullivan.  He also said we were using the issue of trees to pursue our own agenda.  For me this was true.  I am trying to save public trees inappropriately earmarked for removal, yet somehow he made my motivation sound like I was scum & he did this from the safety of ‘privilege.’

Clr Thanos needs to understand it is poor form to criticise residents after they have addressed Council suggesting they have no pride in their community & somehow want to take it down.

I will speak for myself, but I know the other speakers were taken aback with his comments.  I also know they care deeply about this issue & have spent a great deal of their leisure time over the years working to help improve this locality.

Melaleucas targeted by TSIP

Deciding to follow what is happening at Council, find documents on Council’s packed web-site, download documents that are often large, read & analyse them, devote time to preparing a speech, spending the evening at Council, the nerves associated with this & putting opinions out in the public arena, are not small things.  Public speaking is classified as the number 1 biggest fear people have, so I ask, why would we do all these things if we didn’t have pride in our LGA & if we weren’t trying to help bring improvements for the community?

Clr Thanos debated & debated.  Clr O’Sullivan added some valid points in an amendment.  She spoke of how she finds herself clinging to shade when she walks in her area because of the heat island effect.  She also spoke about how climate change has become a significant issue & that there have been advancements in tree care & approaches to public trees since this report was last submitted in 2007.  She cited other Councils & suggested that experts be brought in to educate about current trends.

Eucalypts targeted as well

Clr Hanna reasonably suggested that residents be consulted about what tree species to plant outside their houses & said if they had a choice in the matter they would more likely care for the tree.

The Greens spoke about their tree policy, done with consultation with some members of the community, but this was lost in the ensuing melee, which was again disappointing.  Clr Peters reminded us that it has been 17 years since Council has reviewed its Tree Policy saying this current TSIP was not productive.  Clr Olive & other members of the Greens tried many times to discuss certain points of the TSIP, but this was stopped by Clr Thanos with Clr Tsardoulias in the Chair ordering the Greens to stop for points of order.

The Greens suggested their amendment & Clr O’Sullivan’s amendment were really saying the same thing.  Eventually, this was passed.  1,000 trees get to live for another 6 months while a working party of councillors work on this TSIP.

It was unpleasant to be in the Gallery due to obstructionism from Clr Thanos & Clr Tsardoulias.  I gather this is accepted as the culture of this kind of workplace.  Just last week a Strathfield Council made the news due to a Councillor arguing with residents in the Gallery.  Eventually, this argument was continued out in the street. To read the Inner West Courier article – http://inner-west-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/strathfield-council-in-chaos/

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