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Quite an impact

I had been hearing reports that devastation had happened in front of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Lewisham so we went to have a look for ourselves.  The visual impact to the area is phenomenal. What once was a beautiful stretch of trees along both sides of busy West Street is now a wide gaping hole that looks like a scar.

The lovely historical buildings of St Vincent de Paul Society that front West Street are for the most part brick & sandstone.  In recent years, St Vincent de Paul Society erected a grey glass & steel edifice that is not sympathetic to the surrounding buildings. Things like this are personal taste & I am sure they are happy with the result.  The 31 trees that once fronted this site softened this new building & matched the older buildings.  Together with the trees on the periphery of Petersham Park they created a green corridor along West Street as you came off Parramatta Road.

It is not just the local people who treasure the St Vincent de Paul Society site. I remember when I first saw it in the early 80s when it was still Lewisham Hospital. My reaction was one of stunned, “Wow! This place is gorgeous!”  The many magnificent trees that made up front garden combined with the obviously historical buildings made a strong impression on me.

This gorgeous tree dwarfing the stone arch once provided a grand entrance to the St Vincent de Paul Society complex

Buildings can be beautiful on their own, but most of the time it is the trees that create an atmosphere of wellbeing.  As an example I give the ‘Prayer Garden’ within the St Vincent de Paul Society grounds. I don’t know what this area is called, but it is certainly meant for prayer & contemplation because of the life-size-statue of Jesus, the trees, the landscaping & even the graves tucked into a corner.  If you removed all the trees from this area, it would no longer be a place of contemplation & peace. It would simply be open space between buildings.  This is precisely what has happened at the front of the St Vincent de Paul Society site on West Street.

31 large & mature trees, many with massive trunks, have been removed.  This has exposed the buildings, which now look slightly foreboding, especially the newest grey/glass building.  I acknowledge that this is a matter of personal perception & this is mine.

In place of the trees is a black bitumen driveway & parking spaces. This choice of surface will increase the heat island effect making the area & the buildings hotter in summer.  At the far right there were a grove of Melaleucas & some very big & beautiful Eucalypts that framed the stone arch entrance. They too have gone.  The car park does not come to this area so removing these trees appears to have been done simply to facilitate the rebuilding of the fence.  If St Vincent de Paul Society had wanted to, engineers could have easily replaced the fence & kept the trees.

Instead, the place has been cleared.  Nice little Banksias & Crepe Myrtles have now been planted at wide intervals with other low landscaping plants in a garden bed along the completed section of the new fence.

In my opinion, Marrickville Council let the community down when they passed this DA.  Even though the trees were on private property, the type of property it is means that it has had a long & active history with the community.  The trees were part of the fabric of this Lewisham street & were part of what made Lewisham special.  Most people know of this complex, even if they do not know of its new name & purpose.  What they remember is the beautiful old buildings & the trees.  Question is, are trees valuable enough to be classified part of a community’s history?  I think so, but I am not so naïve to not think that others would disagree with me.

The St Vincent de Paul Society complex is on a main thoroughfare, one block from Parramatta Road. The tall trees with their wide trunks & significant canopy captured & stored much CO2 & particulate matter from passing traffic, preventing this from going into the complex itself, but also further afield into the local community.

The before shot shows the Bandicoot habitat

Then there are the Long-nosed Bandicoots, those small little animals that are classified as ‘endangered species’ & that call this particular patch home.  The presence of Bandicoots is another reason why Marrickville Council should not have passed this DA.   Endangered Species rely on our Councils to preserve & manage their habitat.

The Department of Climate Change, Environment & Water were aghast when I spoke to them last year about the removal of the Long-nosed Bandicoots’ habitat.  I last heard that WIRES was negotiating with St Vincent de Paul Society to retain some habitat so the Bandicoots could continue to survive.  I will contact WIRES to ask what happened.

Marrickville Council now needs to plant street trees on the footpath outside the St Vincent de Paul Society complex.  What is left is a 100 metre long desolate space that is hot, very

A family of Kookaburras lives on the site

windy & not good to look at. It is also noisy as the traffic sounds now bounce back from the buildings. whereas before it was much quieter because the trees muffled the traffic noise.  There are no overhead cables & the footpath is 3 metres wide so tall-growing large canopy trees can be planted.  It would be good if sections of cement could be removed to make long patches of garden greenspace.

It’s difficult to comment about tree removal on private property, though in this case the trees were an integral part of the streetscape & provided habitat for an Australian native animal that has been classified as an endangered species.

There were many in the community who sincerely thought that St Vincent de Paul Society would keep the trees on the far right of the front of the complex for the Bandicoots, especially as they knew the community were very concerned about the loss of their habitat.

I know of a few people who are devastated by the loss of these trees & by how desolate the streetscape of their neighbourhood now looks.  A great chunk of our urban forest has gone & there may be more as I understand St Vincent de Paul Society intend to remove other large Eucalypts throughout the complex.

I have put up a 1.27-minute YouTube of the front of the St Vincent de Paul Society & the streetscape here if you are interested – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJeDogZyHyM

I last wrote about this DA here –  https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/lewisham-is-about-to-lose-32-mature-healthy-trees/

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