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Most of the street trees are on the ground.

Most of the street tree canopy was on the ground.

Councillor Phillips has lodged a Notice of Motion for the Marrickville Council Meeting of Tuesday 18th February 2014.  I am very pleased that this issue is being brought to Council.  The Notice of Motion is as follows –

“Moratorium on street tree pruning by AusGrid

Motion:   That council place a moratorium on AusGrid and its contractors pruning street trees in the Marrickville Local Government Area until AusGrid commits to enforcing far higher standards of pruning and demonstrates that it will protect and respect the street tree assets of Marrickville.

Background:   In recent times many members of the community have contacted councillors to complain about the street tree pruning activities by AusGrid contractors.  They are disturbed that the street tree pruning is being implemented with little regard for the health of the tree, the aesthetics of the tree, and far beyond historical practice and the actual needs to protect electricity infrastructure.

While AusGrid has a legal right to prune trees to protect its assets from damage, they do not have the right to excessively damage council assets.  Mature and semi-mature street trees are worth thousands and thousands of dollars and take a long time to replace.  They are also provide value services to the community, including streetscape aesthetics, shading and cooling, ecology, filtering the air, and boosting property values.  For many residents the street trees contribute to the character of their neighbourhood.  To come home to find the trees on their street have been mutilated unnecessarily can be quite disturbing – to watch them being excessively pruned can be worse!

There may have been a recent change in AusGrid instructions, or the contractors used, or the intervals between prunings?  Whatever has happened has resulted in what may be politely referred to as ‘overzealous’ street tree pruning.  Some residents have referred to it as ‘abuse’ and ‘mutilation’ of the trees.

While I am conscious that our council staff have been in discussion with AusGrid about these activities, I believe it is important for the elected council of Marrickville to formally express its concern and the need for AusGrid to respect council assets.”

To view examples of street tree pruning in Marrickville by Ausgrid in January 2014 see – http://bit.ly/1bc7QJO, http://bit.ly/1alsNri & http://bit.ly/KR2E7Z

whistle

There is big news right at the start of Marrickville Council Meetings for the New Year, which commences next Tuesday.  I suspect it will be ongoing news for some time.

In late 2012 building corporation Meriton made an offer of $5 million to Marrickville Council to be allowed to add a further 10-storeys to one of the towers of controversial Lewisham Towers development.  This would have taken the tower from 10-storeys to 20 storeys.

Greens Councillor Max Phillips informed the community, with the Sydney Morning Herald publishing an article about Meriton’s offer on 11th December 2012.  Clr Phillips has always maintained that he was not aware that the oral briefing from staff to Councillors was confidential.

 

A code of conduct complaint against Cr Phillips was pursued on a split vote of council with then mayor Victor Macri using his casting vote.”

 

The matter was referred to the Division of Local Government who suspended Clr Phillips for a period of two months starting on 17th February 2014 because he refused to apologise for this actions.

Essentially, Clr Phillips was not punished for informing the community of the $5 million dollar offer by Meriton to Marrickville Council.  He was punished for refusing to apologise for doing so.  Clr Phillips is appealing the suspension.

On 28th January 2013 Clr Phillips posted the following on Facebook –

I’ve been informed that the Division of Local Government has ordered my suspension as a Marrickville councillor for 2 months starting 17 Feb. The suspension is because I refuse to apologise for letting the community know about a developer proposal on the Lewisham Towers in late 2012.

I am refusing to apologise because I am not sorry and believe I acted ethically in informing the community.  I could offer an insincere apology, but that would be dishonest and I refuse to lie. 

I will appeal the decision as I believe it is wrong for council and the Division of Local Government to put pressure on a councillor to offer an insincere apology under threat of a sanction.”

Not surprisingly, there was lots of discussion on Facebook.  I have cherry-picked to give an idea of the community response –

“I want more housing in the Inner West but he should not have been fined and the public should have been told about the $5 million.”

“….. council effectively took an alleged bribe, did not correctly disclose info to the citizens, and unjustifiably punished the one who cared about what is right.”

“We will see more and more developers entering into voluntary planning agreements in a bid to overturn local environment plans. There needs to be a high level of transparency in these agreements as they essentially overturn plans that have had extensive community consultation.  In station street a developer is trying to build a sixteen story tower where only 8 storeys is approved. They are promising the council all kinds if things; none of which benefit the community.  I get frustrated as it feels like we never know what really goes on.  The certainty of living in an area, and knowing and accepting a planned level of development is turned on its head. You think you have a fair idea of the level of development that will happen around you, then a developer can come in and swing a bag of cash at council, and then it gets doubled. This has nothing to do with nimbyism or having a sustainable level of development in an area, it’s about a council that could be deemed as untrustworthy (or corrupt!).”

“Are you serious? It’s a pretty basic requirement that 1) councils do not sell questionable approvals to developers 2) any plans to change to the published development restrictions are made public, and made open to public discussion. Procedural fairness? FFS”


“….. Councillor Phillips has been suspended because he refused to apologise as ordered by council resolution. It’s Kafkaesque in it’s absurdity. I’d rather have the matter of the five million investigated rather than a stupid suspension because he refuses to apologise for what was essentially an act of good conscious.  The suspension isn’t even because he revealed the information, it’s because he’s not repentant enough. Absurd – stupidly absurd.”

“This is stupid and petty and akin to punishing a whistleblower. We deserve a Council that’s better than that.”

Any money offers from developers to obtain extra storeys above the planning instrument levels should be made known to the community.  The community should have a right to make submissions to the decision-makers (our Councillors) as to whether it thinks any offer is acceptable & a good bargain for the obvious loss it suffers from over development.  Many in our community are appalled & feel very unsafe that the Local Environment Plan can be overturned because of a Voluntary Planning Agreement, which is essentially money changing hands for a developer being able to go beyond the restrictions of the Local Environment Plan.

With a significant section of the community in support of their right to know what sorts of deals may be on offer to secure favourable decisions for development over and above the standards in our planning instruments, it will be interesting to see how the appeal goes.  In such climate the meetings of the new year may also make interesting viewing.

Marrickville Greens has a post on Clr Phillips’s suspension – http://bit.ly/1fiICMC  & here is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald – http://bit.ly/1iNtY5E & the Daily Telegraph –  http://bit.ly/1nxwkG4

Prunus nigra (Purple leaf plum) are popping up in many streets throughout Marrickville LGA. It’s like they are competing with the Ornamental pear for ‘Tree of the Year.’ I really dislike that this species & the Ornamental pear are being planted as street trees in so many places. Council is often planting them where there is room for a much larger tree & I fear they will become one of the dominant trees in the landscape of Marrickville LGA.

I think Prunus are the tree you plant when you don't really want a tree

Prunus nigra grow to a maximum of 5 metres high & 4 metres wide. This may sound okay, but they often remain much smaller. I think they are useless except for small tight spaces or in areas of the garden where you want a splash of colour.  They offer nothing in terms of shade or food & habitat for wildlife. Prunus varieties are cheap to buy at nurseries & probably even cheaper for Council to buy in bulk. Maybe this is the reason why we are getting so many.

If Council planted Red Flowering Gums at the same rate they planted Prunus imagine how the streets would look during summer & autumn with trees covered in brilliant red, burgundy & hot pink sprays of flowers. The Red Flowering Gum grows to the same height & width as Prunus & also provides colour with fantastic flowers, great red bark & pretty leaves. Importantly they provide plenty food for birds & bats when they are in flower. The Red Flowering Gum is only one example of small trees that could be used in place of Prunus.

This 6-month-old Red Flowering Gum is just above knee-height & is already producing flowers & food

Almost every time I hear trees mentioned during Council Meetings, somewhere in the debate comes an emphasis on planting native trees. I don’t understand this exclusive focus on native species. There are some wonderful non-natives that are suitable as street trees. A bit of variety is a good thing providing there is balance & the animals & birds don’t starve because of it. I’ve seen Oaks used to great effect at both Sefton & Roseville. Trouble is the Oak is a large, long-lived tree & I imagine Council would dislike them for this alone.  I’m not suggesting that Oak trees be planted, but then again, I am not against them being used as the occasional feature tree either.*

I have also listened to debate during a Council Meeting recommending removal of beautiful healthy trees because they were not native to NSW & even this region of Sydney. I wonder at what appears to me to be state parochialism when it comes to trees.  If Council is so keen on planting natives, then why are they planting a tree that hails from North America?

This stunning Red Flowering Gum is 6-years old. It is a major food-producer for birds. It has 3 small trunks.

It seems like all Councils go through phases of likes and dislikes with street tree species. Obviously they would want to choose trees that are likely to create as less of an impact on below & above ground infrastructure & Prunus certainly complies with this. The fact that it is a short growing tree with spindly upward growing branches that is easy to prune would also make it very attractive. Still, I think there are much better choices & would prefer that the budget allocated sufficient funds to allow for the purchase of better species of trees than what can be purchased on the cheap. (Because I can source them cheaply, I am assuming they are also cheap for Council).

This is an example of the type of feedback that we can provide to Council during the community consultation regarding the Draft Urban Forest Policy. I certainly will be including an argument against Prunus & Ornamental pears with my submission.

* Hill’s Fig trees are my favourite, closely followed by many varieties of flowering Eucalypts.  I believe that these 2 types of trees are good on many fronts. Importantly, they provide food & habitat for a variety of wildlife. They also provide shade, which is much needed on our streets & has the added benefit of lowering power consumption because they are so efficient at cooling the air.  The flowers of many varieties have a wonderful soft perfume.  These trees look beautiful & grow tall enough to create a green skyline. Lastly, they are very useful in that they are very good at soaking up CO2, air pollutants & stormwater.  A big tree is far more valuable to the community than a small tree. Older, larger trees with wide trunks have more capacity to capture & store CO2 than small trees.  For example, a tree with a 76-cm diameter girth removes 70 times more pollution per year than does a tree with a 7.5 cm diameter girth.

 

 

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