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In news just in, the Victorian Labor state government has ‘refined’ rules regarding street trees & power cables.  The new law, “set minimum clearance space” around cables. It ranges from 30cm to 3.5m, depending on the type of powerline.” The energy companies must be planning a big celebration party.

“Banyule Council deputy mayor Jenny Mulholland, whose municipality includes Ivanhoe & Eaglemont, said many of Melbourne’s leafy streetscapes would be reduced to rows of tree stumps. She said 75,000 trees would be affected, costing the council $3 million, or the equivalent of a 6% rate rise.”

Street trees in Darlinghurst

Quite understandably, many of Victoria’s local Councils are very unhappy about the new rules, as the fine is $30,000, which I presume will be for each tree that breaches the clearance space.  Councils will need to spend millions of dollars pruning & removing larger trees just to comply with the initial stages. Then there will be ongoing costs. This is death to most local government budgets.

Here is where it gets really interesting.  Melbourne is famous for its street & park trees.  Having lived there I can attest that is it is a lovely green city with large street trees everywhere.  Most ordinary streets in Melbourne are what we in Sydney would call ‘an avenue of trees’ & regard as special streets.  The city prides itself on its street trees & it has lots of urban wildlife.  People & businesses take care of the street trees.

We visited Melbourne recently & it seemed that there were more trees than when I lived there.  There was no rubbish around trees in the areas we visited, trees were not in cages, branches were not snapped off & main shopping strips were full of large leafy trees.  Large street trees in the middle of the road is the norm.  The general height of street trees in Melbourne is much higher than in Marrickville LGA.   Most street trees reach well above the gutters of buildings & many are higher than the buildings themselves.

Quite simply, the city & surrounding suburbs looked glorious. Speak to any Melbourne person about the street trees & watch their face light up. They love them.

It makes a big difference to how a city & its suburbs work when there are a lot of street trees. People are drawn to eat outside. Melbourne is a coffee-drinking culture.  There are hundreds of cafes with people sitting at tables eating & drinking under street trees.  They were doing this as a norm 30 years ago, while here in Sydney it is a relatively new thing.

Street trees in Liverpool Street Sydney

Many of the street trees of Melbourne are deciduous so, like Canberra, they have visible seasons with autumn colours, bare trees in winter & spring growth. Because much of Melbourne is flat terrain, trees are visible in the distance. They also bring much beauty to industrial areas or areas where the quality of the buildings is not so attractive.

Take the trees away & you have removed much of what makes Melbourne special. The city won’t recover & the loss of street trees will affect tourism in a major way.

Add the fact that Melbourne is very hot in summer. Most years they have a few days of constant heat-wave conditions.  Take the street trees away & the heat island effect is going to be horrendous. Then there is winter where the winds come straight from Antarctica & are bone-crunching freezing. With fewer street trees, the wind won’t be diffused & will roar around the streets. The heat will be hotter & the cold colder.

To me the Victorian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor has made a really strange decision. In one foul swoop he will seriously affect tourism for the city, he will ensure rates rise dramatically, he will anger the Councils & seriously anger the people. How will they accept that their beautiful streets are going to be denuded & made ugly? The process may start, but I doubt it will last long once people & industries start noticing the impact & the loss of quality of life.

Has the Minister not heard of global warming or climate change? Just how hot does he want the city of Melbourne & its suburbs to become?  Imagine the follow through as more people go to hospital with heat, respiratory & cardiac related illnesses.

Hills Figs in Jersey Street Marrickville

The real winners of this decision are the power companies & the retailers of air-conditioning units.  Every residence will need at least 1 air-conditioning unit & sales will go through the roof. More electricity will be used & power costs will increase dramatically. The city will pump out CO2 making us proud polluters in the world stage.  Urban wildlife will die. The city will be dirtier from particulate matter & dust that usually gets picked up by the trees.  People will be angrier. Graffiti will get worse as it is known to be high in areas that have few street trees. Rates will rise again just to pay for graffiti removal & state taxes will rise due to the increased pressure on the health system.

It’s astounding that this ‘rule’ comes out of the mouth of a representative of the people who is supposed to be doing things for the people & for the benefit of the people.  While the rest of the country & the world gets its act together about trees in urban areas & greens their cities, Melbourne will be doing the opposite.  Right now Melbourne is a role model of what a green city looks like.

Street trees in Salisbury Road Stanmore

Then the National Broadband Network will roll out.  If they don’t put the cables underground, they will put them on the power-poles just like Optus did.  They will probably want their broadband cable positioned another metre below the Optus cable & then all the street trees will have to be removed.  Great move.

In a senate debate, “To bury or not to bury,” the following was written – “To provide optical fibre cables aerially, the NBN Co will need to either use existing electricity utility infrastructure, or to build their own poles where there are none in existence. Aerial cabling is most likely to be used in existing, or ‘brownfield’ areas, where telecommunications & other infrastructure already exists. Extrapolating from that assumption & taking guidance from the Tasmanian roll-out, the committee believes that aerial cabling may be deployed over the vast majority of the 90 per cent FTTP footprint.”

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/broadband_ctte/third_report/c04.htm

I can’t imagine the people of Melbourne will just sit back & allow their suburbs be made into wastelands. I will watch how this pans out & report back on the most interesting bits.  Good luck Melbourne.

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/melbournes-famous-tree-lined-streets-could-be-stripped/story-e6frf7kx-1225941423229

Tree of Heaven - a straggly plant that fills the air with the most gorgeous perfume during hot summer nights. It is a self-seeding weed & the birds continue the spread of this plant when they eat the berries

This post has nothing to do with trees, but I believe it is of interest in light of the fact that Marrickville LGA is about to undergo quite substantial high-rise development.

In 2002 Council decided to create a new rate of ‘rates’ to apply to large shopping centres like Marrickville Metro.  It charged Marrickville Metro the new ‘rate,’ higher than the rate that applies to homes & smaller businesses.

The company paid the new rate each year, but in 2008 objected & took the case to the Land & Environment Court. The court ruled in Marrickville Council’s favour.  The company appealed to the NSW Court of Appeal.  It argued the new rate should be overruled on a raft of grounds such as: Council had failed to comply with various sections of the Local Government Act, the rate was unfair, the rate was targeting only one site (Marrickville Metro), the 2002 & subsequent decisions about the new rate were manifestly unreasonable, the rate was imposed for improper purpose, the rate was discriminatory, some Councillors who voted in favour of the rate were biased.

On 24th June 2010, the 3 judges of the NSW Court of Appeal dismissed every ground of the company’s appeal. At paragraph 198 of the judgment Justice John Basten put it beautifully & succinctly, where he wrote:  In many respects the company’s submissions “were simply untenable” & its arguments “were largely misconceived.”

The General Manager’s report in 2002 that examined the rationale for the higher ‘rate’ said:

Council may wish to consider the following factors:

  • Larger shopping centres may attract additional traffic to the LGA & may concentrate traffic emanating from within the LGA placing a proportionately greater pressure on existing road & footpath infrastructure than other shopping configurations.
  • Larger shopping centres attract larger retailers who are more likely to draw from a wider employment pool than that available within the LGA. Small shops along shopping strips & local businesses may be more likely to employ local staff enhancing local employment & local economic prosperity.
  • Council may determine that the rate to be applied to shopping strips should be proportionately less than that applying to larger shopping areas to promote the survival of shopping strips. Apart from the more obvious issue of maintaining the economic vitality of local businesses, this action would support the following Council initiatives:

– Mainstreet strategies to promote local business

– Streetscape works designed to enhance the look & feel of shopping areas

– Community Safety objectives which are enhanced when people are attracted to prosperous, pleasant, well lit, local shopping areas

– Access for the elderly to shopping facilities particularly where car transport is not available.

  • Enhancing the economic viability of suburban businesses may assist in maintaining the individual character of shopping & business zones within the Marrickville LGA. This would reflect the cultural, social & economic needs of the diverse range of residents within these areas & may help promote the unique characteristics of the Marrickville Council area from a tourist perspective.”

This is a landmark decision. Well done Marrickville Council.  Businesses & developments are getting bigger & bigger, bringing increasing pressure on public infrastructure & impacts on the community that Council ultimately needs to pay for. It would be nice if the JRPP keep the above points in the General Manager’s report  at the forefront of their mind when considering applications for new large developments.

verge gardening-looks prettier than in the photo

FOR THOSE ON THE MAILING LIST of Saving Our Trees – did you receive an e-mail from me regarding the street trees in Ivanhoe Street Marrickville South sent 22nd February 2010?

I have been told of problems receiving this e-mail.  I can only conclude that some computers are deciding e-mails from SoT are spam because the e-mail was a broadcast to a large number of recipients.  Individual e-mails sent since from my gmail account have also failed.

If you are on the mailing list & did not receive an e-mail from me, can you let me know please. If you want to be on the mailing list & receive information when a tree is up for removal, I would be pleased to hear from you as well.  savingourtrees@gmail.com

A quick dose of news from the Cumberland Courier that concerns us all, especially in light of recent Council decisions concerning rates.  The Australian Energy Regulator is thinking about increasing charges for the replacement & maintenance of streetlights.    This is undoubtedly going to affect Marrickville Council in a big way if Energy Australia goes ahead with this as the costs are massive.  http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/streetlight-costs-look-set-to-soar/

Tuesday’s Council meeting was perhaps one of the most important meetings of the year as the Asset Management Strategy Policy was on the agenda.  This report was recommending to increase rates, always a hot issue when it hits the public purse.

Money was central to most of the issues on the agenda from a donation to Haiti, whether to spend money on Addison Road or on Marrickville Railway Station, to giving the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville financial assistance of $5,000 to quieten down their new digital bells & to the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Council staff.  There may have been more, but we did not stay until the end.

Many residents are aware  that Marrickville Council doesn’t have the money to fix things as most requests from the community take a long while before they reach the top of the list of the actions council is taking.  Staff & councillors have openly said to me on a number of occasions that Council just doesn’t have the money to do certain projects.  For me, it was obvious when reading through last week’s Tree Management Issues Paper that Parks & Gardens have been functioning under-resourced & under-financed for many years.  After what I heard discussed last night, I would not be surprised if many departments in Council are experiencing the same restrictions.  Put simply, Marrickville Council finances are in trouble.

In brief, the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Marrickville Council staff said:

  • Marrickville Council cannot afford to look after its infrastructure & assets & was listed as an ‘unsustainable council’ in 2009
  • Council’s financial unsustainability was not going to improve unless they improved their financial position significantly with one option being to increase rates.

A staff member said that the reason the report was before Council was because:

  • the serious condition of our assets with significant issues facing Marrickville Council 2010-2011
  • Size & scale of financial deficit is substantial.  The draft budget first cut figure is $2 million deficit having carried through Phase 1 & 2 reductions to the budget
  • There are a lot of unknowns if the issue is deferred for another year

Marrickville Council does not have enough money to repair its assets or maintain its infrastructure.  A recent & public example is the old & beautiful Coptic Church in Sydenham Green, which featured in Council in 2009 & again last week.

It will be a significant loss to our history if we lose this building

A staff member of Council explained to me that a community organisation can apply to use the church, though they would need to sign a lease for a number of years & renovate the building themselves at an estimated cost of $2.3 million, as well as look after its upkeep for the duration of the lease before it comes back into Council’s hands again.  The problem is that the community organisations or groups that council would see as suitable to use the church building are unlikely to be able to pay for the repair of this particular building which is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  The Inner West Courier published an article about this church this week – page 9 –http://digitaledition-innercity.innerwestcourier.com.au/

The Asset Management Strategy Policy was recommending that the councillors decide whether or not to apply to the minister for a rates increase (special levy).

The debate between councillors covered the history of some projects & of previous applications for rates increases, how much public works actually cost (eg $350,000 for paving in Dulwich Hill shopping strip, $15,000 for a speed hump, $35,000 for a round-about) & about the financial burden of servicing 1 billion dollars worth of infrastructure before you even build anything new.

Despite the importance of the issue & the strong views held by councillors, the meeting was polite. There was negligible need for the chair to intervene.

The flow of the discussion allowed the councillors to ask many questions to the staff & I was impressed by the extensive & considered strategic advice they offered.  They explained how these processes work, what is the financial situation of council, what could be done with any additional funds in the kitty & what might be done if council did not apply for the special levy.

Councillors expressed concern about the financial status of council.  As expected, there was divergent opinion as to the best way to manage this situation.  I am deliberately lumping comments & strategies together to keep this brief.  Apologies for any mistakes.

The Greens expressed concern that Council was in dire financial straits & if left until next year, the situation would only worsen reminding that this issue has been deferred for many years.  They believed if the community was asked whether they would pay about $1.60 per week per household or 96 cents per week for lower income households for better roads, better footpaths & better infrastructure, the majority of rate-payers would say yes.  They were also worried about Council’s ability to pay staff & ability to maintain the substantial assets we have.  They wanted the money raised to be used for priority infrastructure renewal works.  They also reminded everyone that it has been 5 years since the last rate increase. They also argued that if left until next year, councillors will be afraid to pass a rate increase because of fearing community backlash with the upcoming election.

The remaining councillors wanted to defer the decision for another year saying that while they were concerned about Council’s financial situation, they wanted to know whether there were other cost saving measures & revenue accruing avenues that could be explored before going the route of raising rates.  Some suggestions were closing some of the libraries, advertising on billboards facing the airport road at Tempe, life-cycle planning, community consultation with residents, continuing to educate council staff on safe work practices to reduce worker’s compensation payouts, looking at verge mowing & paid parking, increasing fees to use sports ovals & child-care facilities, getting rid of unnecessary programs & operations & selling off the Marrickville Hospital site (council has not made a decision about its future for some while).

The vote by Councillors Iskandar, O’Sullivan, Wright, Thanos, Hanna, Macri was to defer for 12 months.

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