Costigan / What is it about pollies and trees?

“When I see that word ‘heritage’ linked to the government’s intentions for the inner north, I worry how bad things are going to go for any heritage (buildings and landscapes),” writes columnist PAUL COSTIGAN

TO quote from a colleague’s blog: “We once sat next to a GP on a plane who explained that humans are really all just primates, and primates have a basic need to see green living things”.

This may explain why, when driving out of Sydney, I often choose the longer route through the Royal National Park. The sight of all those bushes and trees is amazing and adds much pleasure to the journey.

Paul Costigan.

Recently on a stop-over in Mittagong I picked up its equivalent to “CityNews”. The story that dominated the pages was about a council proposal to upgrade Bowral’s Station Street (the one by the railway) to a four-lane bypass.

There, alongside many objections (budget overrun, conflict of interest, heritage, loss of railway commuter parking etcetera), was the stand out. The council had agreed to the loss of 153 cherished trees that provide a glorious canopy to one side of this regional centre. Residents are stunned that councillors were keen to degrade the ambience and natural beauty of the city – the reason why people continue to move to the Southern Highlands.

It was with some anguish that I read on my return that the ACT government, with its tarnished reputation on urban redevelopment, is “consulting” on the future of the inner north.

To quote: “We are looking at how to best use our available land to meet the needs of the current community and the future residents, while preserving the much-loved character and heritage of the area”.

In late 2016 I remember listening to the Planning Minister badly reading a bureaucratically prepared speech at a pre-election heritage meeting. Besides wondering how I would ever get back those 30 minutes, I learnt that night about the limits of this guy’s understanding of heritage. So when I see that word “heritage” being linked to the government’s intentions for the inner north, I worry how bad things are going to go for any heritage (buildings and landscapes) with my neighbourhood.

As for the fabulous ambience of the inner north and its urban forests, the notion that this government is now eyeing off what he terms to be “available land” – could only mean that every tree is now on formal notice.

Across Canberra there are numerous proposals that could each reduce the number of trees and the biodiversity on the relevant site. The total number of trees presently under threat across the inner north is enormous. Before any developments are to be considered within Canberra, planners should first consider the environment – and, as part of that, should consider how a development could enhance, not diminish, Canberra’s urban forests and biodiversity.

In response to the Dickson Parklands consultations, I posed two key questions ahead of all others – namely: Is there an Urban Tree Strategy that any developments on the Parklands site or elsewhere in the Dickson area are being assessed against? – and – Does the planning for the Parklands site consider what climate change adaptation measures will be insisted on for all redevelopment on the site?

These questions point to something missing within the ACT government’s current approach to planning and development. While we have a band of talented arborists to look after individual trees, we lack an agency within government that is charged with the task of being the stewards of the totality of our urban forests.

I often wonder whether the present government has lost its humanity and has failed to grasp the legacy it has inherited – being the city’s life-enriching and beautiful urban trees. Well-designed developments can enhance the biodiversity, increase the urban forests, and contribute positively to the required climate change measures. Surely there must be someone in this government who could show leadership by being serious about the stewardship of the environment – and therefore trees.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday life matters.

 

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