Costigan / Strange tale of the Manuka tree

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The protected tree in Manuka is showing signs of stress. Photo Paul Costigan

THE people of Canberra love our trees and when one is threatened unnecessarily, people do whatever they can to save it.

Paul Costigan.

Developers do not always share this view. For them trees can be an obstacle to progress; a hindrance to progressing their ambitions to maximise profits.

The ACT planning minister and his bureaucrats constantly talk about looking after the bush capital. However, the common view is this government, through its development approvals, is more often than not working against retaining the bush capital and ignores the urban issues such as climate change, green infrastructure, ambience and let’s not forget heritage.

Sadly, residents and the government occupy very different realities when it comes to how they think about the future of this city’s urban forests.

In Manuka there have been goings-on involving such a tree that is registered as a “significant tree”. This large London Plane is the centre of a debate between locals, the planning chief, the minister and a developer. 

The developer has approval to knock down and replace the Capitol Cinema and nearby buildings for a seven-storey hotel and other stuff. The approval was not granted for the removal of the tree – which people have commented was there before the buildings.

Into this debate has wandered a new interim body titled the National Capital Design Review Panel. It offers advice during the pre-consultation stages for significant proposals and in this case did not favour the development as presented and advised that the London Plane could be saved with a change in the architectural design for the site. 

Seemed a sensible suggestion. 

The ACT government architect heads up this panel. The ACT’s chief planner has previously accepted and acted on the panel’s deliberations. 

However, in his wisdom the chief planner let them know that for this development the panel’s advice was rejected.

Then came the next strange stage of this story. Having ruled that the development was approved but that the removal of the tree was not, the developer is seeking de-registration of the tree with what is being interpreted as the support of the planning chief.

And that makes sense to someone?

The Inner South Canberra Community Council has taken up this debate and has written a very sound letter to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman requesting that he formalise the work of the review panel so that their advice is not so easily and randomly ignored.

Again, that makes sense to almost everyone.

As for the tree? It remains a magnificent specimen. It stands proud waiting for the government to step in and demand the developer be creative and use some good design to allow the tree to remain – and possibly create some green space around it and thus give something back to the area.

That made sense to almost everyone.

But an alert has just been circulated that residents have spotted that parts of the tree are suddenly not looking so well. Give that all the trees in the immediate streets are looking very healthy, one wonders why this particular tree has suddenly become so stressed with parts of it looking very poorly indeed.

Let’s hope common sense will come to the minister soon and that he will act along the lines of the recommendations of his own design review panel. 

Isn’t that why we have an elected politician running the show and why we should not allow the bureaucrats the last say in such cases?

That’s used to be the way things happened in a democracy. 

Many people are watching this – and many hope to see the tree there for a long time to come.

People realise that whatever the outcome, tree or no tree, it should be a clear signal on the reality of what sort of government we have.

And one more thing. Somebody asked that frequently asked question – where are the ACT Greens in all this?

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  1. The ACT Greens are not very interested in trees. Have a look around Civic where private enterprise offered to replace 50 missing trees at no cost to the government but their offer was rejected.

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