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This photo was sent to me by a local resident. As you can see, there is a significant amount of the canopy on the ground ready to go through the woodchopper.  The tree that was pruned is visible behind the woodchopper.  Thanks to the resident for allowing me to use this photo.  

It is the season of peace & goodwill & I would prefer to be writing positive posts.  However, I am getting messages from distressed residents about Inner West Council – Marrickville’s tree pruning, so I need to write something.

Inner West Council is currently pruning the street trees in Marrickville South. I spoke to Council’s tree pruners earlier this year, so I was surprised when they were back again so soon.

Our street trees get “managed” from all directions – Ausgrid, development & Council.  Vandals also do things to the street trees, though I am not suggesting that Council are vandals.  Imagine having three groups coming on a regular basis to give you a haircut & maybe lop your ears off.  It is no wonder so many street trees look unattractive.

My observation with pruners is that they come once to prune.  The next time they come they take off more branches that were deemed okay the last visit & no, they haven’t grown so much to be noticeable.  Ausgrid does this & over.  In a very short time, the trees get reduced into a shadow of their former self.  Ausgrid prunes the top & Council prunes the bottom.

Inner West Council – Marrickville says on their website –

“Street trees will be pruned to:

  • Remove any dead, dying or dangerous branches
  • Allow clearance for pedestrians and vehicles
  • Allow clearance to buildings (where practicable)
  • Improve their health and structure.”

So, what is the problem?  This is what has been relayed to me.

I had no knowledge that this was happening today;… Apparently, they are pruning to Australian standards & to protect workers so grass can be mowed, and so footpath is clear & people can walk to their cars.  [they] were saying most people want the trees cut out!!”   Sounds reasonable except if you know the tree was not causing a problem to begin with.   I know this tree.  It was not intruding on the footpath, nor did it prevent people from getting to their car.  What it did have was branches low down on the trunk & as far as I have observed, this is not acceptable by Council.

“This work is being done on the smaller trees to “shape them” and make it easier for council to cut grass from base of trees and away from pedestrians using footpath. This means that the trees look like pom poms and the removal of the dense bottom canopy is not appealing at all to me.”   

“Contractor tried to tell me it’s not my tree & I have no right to protest it’s being trimmed; when I lovingly water it I feel I have some say in its up keep! And will continue fighting for it to live!!!!”    The photo above will show you just how much of the bottom canopy of this tree was removed.

The residents do not believe the trees needed pruning & if the tree  did by Council’s standards, the residents believe that the pruning was excessive.

It is heatwave conditions at the moment.  The weather forecast for the next week is four days well above 30 degrees & five days of extreme UV index.  It can’t be good for trees to undergo so much stress in these weather conditions.  I recently learnt that trees can get sunburnt.    We still have the really hot months ahead of us.

The trees are in flower providing much needed food for wildlife & also beauty for the streetscape.  Many people wait for the flowers on trees to bloom.  Much of the flowers went into the woodchipper.

Surely it is  better to prune trees when they aren’t in flower.  It would not matter so much if we had tonnes of food-producing trees across Inner West Council – Marrickville’s section, but we don’t.  Bird-life would not be missing out on essential food supply.

Inner West Council Marrickville says on their website –

Proactive maintenance based on an annual cycle and is carried out in within a precinct according to the calendar month, i.e. January is precinct one, February is precinct two and so on.”

I downloaded their map & saw that Marrickville South is allocated June, the 6th month.  It is December, the 12th month.  Enter the website  via the Marrickville portal & they say they are doing street tree maintainance & list streets in Balmain.  That’s a bit confusing. 

To finish, I do believe Council needs to ensure that their pruners do not over prune.  Council put up signs saying Ausgrid was over pruning trees.  This was great & wonderfully supportive for the community who were reeling from the damage to street trees done by Ausgrid pruners.  What is not so great is the community perception that Council are doing the same.

2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville

2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville.  This was an attractive tree.  It was left with barely any canopy to speak of and no amenity.

“The state’s electricity distributor has been accused of wilful vandalism by one of several Sydney councils frustrated by what they say is excessive pruning of street trees.”   See – http://bit.ly/1NkD6dV

That’s a pretty strong start to a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the new pruning techniques used by Ausgrid that are causing considerable shock to the Sydney community.

It is interesting to read the comments of the Mayors of Sutherland Shire Council, Marrickville Council & Woollahra Municipal Council.

Ausgrid said, “Contractors were trained to prune to Australian standards to protect the health of the tree and to allow for annual regrowth, as part of a vegetation management that cost Ausgrid about $40 million a year.”  And here is the threat – “Trimming trees more frequently would be inefficient and would add significantly to customers’ bills.”

From my observations Energy Australia came to my area to prune street trees every 7-8 years.  When Ausgrid took over the reigns, pruning of street trees seemed to be happening every 18-months, though since last year, it appears that they do not prune every tree in the street.  Thankfully, this stops the whole street looking like a war zone.

When Ausgrid started pruning street trees I thought this may just be a local problem. Lately I have been traveling around Sydney & have noticed that there are butchered street trees everywhere.

Part of the problem is inappropriate trees planted under power lines & the Councils are responsible for this.  Ausgrid appear to be addressing the problem by making trees so ugly or unstable that they are unviable.

Many of our street trees are decades old & therefore valuable infrastructure. They should be managed with care until they need to be removed because of natural causes or some other reason, but not because they have been rendered unsafe or unviable because of Ausgrid pruning practices.

Many local councils are aiming to increase the urban forest because of the threats to livability caused by climate change.  How are they going to get ahead when a large percentage of their street trees need to be removed or are rendered little more than poles with an insubstantial canopy?  The community is paying the energy supplier to destroy their street trees & decrease their quality of life.

Ausgrid says they have to prune like this for our safety.  Observation of the previous company‘s pruning practices is proof that such brutal & frequent pruning is not necessary.

When I talked to a pruning contractor & asked what he suggested as replacements, he said, “Shrubs or nothing.”

If you go to the suburbs of Port Macquarie you will see what streets look like when there are no street trees under power lines.  I wonder whether the Port Macquarie community receives a discount in their energy bills because very little pruning of street trees is needed for this community?  It would only seem reasonable.

Yes Councils can stop planting tall-growing trees under power lines, BUT a skilled pruner can prune taller trees making them safe without destroying the tree.  You only need to go through the streets of Sydney CBD to know that this is achievable.   Street trees of 3-4 storeys throughout the city streets have power lines going through or past the canopy, but the trees remain intact, tall & beautiful.

Ausgrid has a responsibility to the community to prune in a way that does not destroy their valuable infrastructure, their amenity & future livability with climate change. I have not even addressed the impact on wildlife.

One question which I have not had answered is why pruning of branches needs to be 1-metre below the telecommunications cable.

Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid in 2014.

Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid in 2014.  This was not an isolated incident in Marrickville municipality.  

Two branches left

Two branches left & this is not an isolated example.

Clr Phillips put up a Notice of Motion – Moratorium on street tree pruning by Ausgrid for the Council Meeting of 18th February 2014.  To read the Notice of Motion see – http://bit.ly/1jeuRBj

I was reading the business papers today & decided that Council staff comments should be shared.

“Council has no power to impose a moratorium on Ausgrid.  Under the NSW State Government legislation, the Minister of Resources & Energy has authorised the Electricity Supply Act 1995 ….. if a network operator has reasonable cause to believe that a tree could interfere with its electricity works….the network operator may trim or remove the tree.  This section applies despite the existence of a tree preservation order or environment planning instrument.”

“….Council met with Ausgrid representatives in January 2014 to discuss the recent heavy pruning of Marrickville’s street trees.  Clarification was sought as to the clearences they are required to prune to achieve.  In summary [they are] –

  • LOW VOLTAGE LINES: 1m clearance at all times & an extra 2m ‘regrowth zone’ resulting in a total 3m pruning.
  • AERIAL BUNDLED CABLE:  0.6m at all times & an extra 2m ‘regrowth zone’ resulting in a total 2.6m pruning.

As a result of the 3m clearance requirements many trees are being left unviable & disfigured.”

The outcome of this meeting is as follows –

  1. Council are writing to Networks NSW to request an amendment to the above guidelines.
  2. Ausgrid committed to improving the quality of their street tree pruning & also committed to contacting Council regarding any public tree where necessary pruning could render the tree unviable.
  3. Ausgrid will remove all tree pruning material before they leave the area, instead of leaving them overnight taking away residents car parking spaces.

Marrickville Council itself has said that they will plant only small tree species under powerlines as part of their upcoming Street Tree Master Plan.

Considering that aerial bundled cabling is expensive, I do not understand why the benefits only amount to less than half a metre.

Also, pruning to 1m below the telecommunications cables has not been mentioned.  I have received information on good authority that pruning for these cables is unnecessary, as contact with trees does not create a safety hazard.

Considering that the NBN cable will also likely be attached to powerlines in some areas, this will mean a much lower ‘regrowth zone’ if current pruning to protect telecommunications cables is followed.  If this does happen, even a small stature tree will be unsuitable for under powerlines.

To view examples of street tree pruning in Marrickville by Ausgrid in January 2014 see – http://bit.ly/1bc7QJOhttp://bit.ly/1alsNri & http://bit.ly/KR2E7Z

Council’s response to the recent tree pruning can be read here – http://bit.ly/1buApYP

There is no amenity left in this street tree in Warren Road.

There is no amenity left in this street tree in Warren Road.

Another street thee in Warren Road

Another street tree in Warren Road decimated

The top half of Warren Road, Roach Street & Wrights Avenue Marrickville was the focus of street tree pruning by power company Ausgrid yesterday.  I took these photos at dusk today.

I find it a shame that Ausgrid prunes in this manner because it does appear extreme & often the trees they leave us with have little amenity or beauty left.   Our streetscapes are starting to look very bad & this loss of canopy already has a negative impact on wildlife.  Since the latest round of pruning, we have lost birds in my street because of the loss of food for them.

However, I think the real focus should be on our own Council who chose to plant trees that they knew will grow well into, as well as above the powerlines & therefore, would need pruning by Ausgrid.  It’s like setting the trees & the streetscape up for failure. 

The look for a few years in many sections is saplings that eventually grow into young trees, some faster than others.  Once they reach a certain height the streetscape becomes a line of hacked lob-sided trees with barely any canopy.  It is this look we live with for many years until Council takes them out & starts again.  Currently, it costs $1,000 to plant a new tree. Removing trees is not cheap either.

I call this section of Warren Road ‘Tuckeroo Central’ as they are the dominant street tree.   Tuckeroos (Cupaniopsis anacardioides) are a hardy drought & pollution resistant tree that copes with a range of soils, which is why many councils use them – some would say to excess.  The Tuckeroo has non-invasive roots making it an attractive choice as a street tree.  It reaches a height of between 8-15 metres making it unsuitable for planting under powerlines in my opinion.

When planted as a feature tree, it can look fabulous, especially if the council has left the side branches, as it can grow a thick wide round canopy.  There are excellent examples in Paddington, but they don’t mind big street trees in that suburb.

The Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) on the left in Roach Street is a short-lived (less than 15 years) tree that can reach a height of 7–35 metres by 5–10 metres.

The Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) on the left in Roach Street is a short-lived tree (less than 15 years) that can reach a height of 7–35 metres by 5–10 metres.  Even 7-metres is too tall for under power lines.

Three Tuckeroos in  Wrights Avenue

Three Tuckeroos in Wrights Avenue

This is  Wrights Avenue with Tuckeroos on both sides.  It gives an indication of how tall the trees can reach, though the trees on the left are not fully grown yet.  The trees on the right were pruned yesterday.

This is Wrights Avenue with Tuckeroos on both sides. It gives an indication of how tall the trees can reach, though the trees on the left are not fully grown yet. The trees on the right were pruned yesterday.

 

 

 

 

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

Here are more examples of street tree pruning done by energy company Ausgrid last week in Renwick Street Marrickville.    My thoughts on this, plus more photos can be seen at – http://bit.ly/1bc7QJO 

Thankfully, Marrickville Council left a comment on that post saying, A lot of recent pruning that has been done in the Marrickville area is very poor and not to industry standards.  ……..  Council is meeting with Ausgrid and its contractors this week to raise these issues and try to find a solution.”  [full comment at the above link.]

Chopped back so far under even the Optus cable.

There are 2 street trees in this photo.

Umbrella Lily Pilys

Umbrella Lilly Pillies.

The thick line is the Optus cable

The thick line is the Optus cable

Two Lily Pilys corner of tree pruning in Renwick Street & Excelsior Parade Marrickville

Two Lilly Pillies on the corner of Renwick Street & Excelsior Parade Marrickville.

Again, pruned way below the Optus cable

Again, pruned way below the Optus cable

There was some interesting news in both local papers this week.

  • Marrickville Council have designed a street bin that takes cigarette butts allowing disposal without setting the contents of the bin on fire.  60 of these street bins have been installed along Marrickville & Enmore Roads & King Street with more on the way.  This is excellent & should go a long way to preventing butts ending up in the Cooks River via stormwater drains.  http://www.torchpublishing.com.au/read/Valley_Times_2_February_2012/index.php
  • After complaints from residents in Lamb Street Lilyfield about street tree pruning for powerlines Leichhardt Council called on Ausgrid “to consult with them before undertaking any more work.”  Leichhardt Council thought the pruning of some street trees “excessive.”   From Ausgrid’s website – “Trimming is carried out by contractors who follow the Australian Standard AS4373 Pruning of Amenity Trees.  Ausgrid employs a horticulturist & an arborist to audit the work of our contractors.  Each contractor also employs a horticulturist & an arborist to monitor standards & ensure they are maintained.”
    http://inner-west-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/ausgrid-tree-pruning-raises-debate/

    This is one example of the many street trees in Hurlstone Park that were pruned for cables just before Christmas. It was quite a shock to see.

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