Residents face anxious wait on fate of 440 trees

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Megan Mears… “It’s important to maintain the character of Section 76, which is currently surrounded by trees on all sides.” Photo: Danielle Nohra.

THE Watson Community Association is anxiously waiting to see if almost 440 trees will be removed to make space for an ACT government development in north Watson. 

The final tree assessment report for Block 2, Section 76, between Aspinall Street and the Federal Highway, Watson, advises the tree removal of almost 440 of the 689 trees on the block, in preparation for the medium-density residential development 

It is something that the association strongly opposed in its recent submission to the government, with association chair Megan Mears saying: “In the ideal situation, the tree boundaries would be maintained by the ACT government and not included in the land to be developed for residential use.”

The association submission in response to the draft variation plan made 13 recommendations to the nine-hectare development that foreshadows a residential development (up to 200 dwellings), with a building maximum of four storeys, demonstration housing, a craft workshop, a social enterprise and a one-hectare neighbourhood park. 

Tress on the eastern border of Watson’s Section 76. Photo: Danielle Nohra

Three of the 13 recommendations made were around the trees on the block with the association calling for the retention of all trees, pointing to the ACT government’s own target of a canopy tree cover that is 30 per cent by 2045. 

“This new government strategy, the urban forest strategy is that Canberrans enjoy equitable distribution of canopy coverage. If you remove those large stands of trees, it’s really not helping that,” says Megan, 55, of Watson. 

“We believe it’s important to maintain the character of Section 76, which is currently surrounded by trees on all sides so removing those trees is not in support of maintaining that character.” 

While the draft variation plan does note the desire to retain a portion of the trees on the western boundary of the block, due to the trees being a habitat for the threatened Superb Parrot, and does seek to retain as many trees as possible, the association would like certainty around what that will actually look like. 

An ACT government spokesperson says the 2020 tree assessment will help inform the planning stage and notes that the trees may have value in other ways, such as a wind buffer, canopy cover, climate regulation, wildlife movement and visual appeal.

“Our recommendation was that the trees down that eastern boundary, those large pines, would be included into the parkland and wouldn’t be available for residential development,” Megan says. 

“There doesn’t seem to be any clear guidance about what’s going to happen to the trees along Aspinall Street.”

While Megan understands that some of the trees are old and would need replacement, she’s not sold on the idea of replacing some of the exotic, established trees, with natives. 

“Could you imagine going to Narrabundah and Yarralumla and saying: ‘Sorry those street trees are inappropriate, we’re going to remove them and put in natives’,” she says. 

However, she fears that much of Watson will lose its ability to have magnificent, established trees with the suburb being divided into more and more smaller blocks. 

“Older Watson had larger blocks so both the government and the residents could grow big trees and with all the smaller blocks in medium density, you don’t have that capacity for it to ever have large established trees,” she says.

“Lots of the really desirable parts of Canberra have very leafy canopies but in the long term there won’t be the room to have those established trees here.”

Overall, Megan says, the association would love to see the government work with developers who have the same goals that they do as their baseline. 

And best-case scenario? The trees are kept outside of the development. 

Max Pouwer… “We’ve already got so many housing estates in Watson and quite high density, my preference would be to keep this as a natural area and possibly improve it in terms of replanting with other native vegetation, rather than turning it into another high-density development.” Photo: Danielle Norha

However, the best-case scenario for another Watson resident, Max Pouwer, 66, is for the development to not go ahead at all, and for the space to be turned into a revegetation site.

“We’ve already got so many housing estates in Watson and quite high density, my preference would be to keep this as a natural area and possibly improve it in terms of replanting with other native vegetation, rather than turning it into another high-density development,” he says. 

But Max, a Friends of Mount Majura member, can’t see that happening, saying the development would be difficult to derail now.

“If it’s going to go ahead maybe we can remediate a few things, and the thing that concerns me the most is this potential of planting new exotic species,” he says. 

“But on the other side, they should be left because they’re already mature and provide a habitat for the Superb Parrot. 

“These are all mature trees, 50 years old or more, you can’t replace that. It will take another 20 or 30 years, even if you have fast-growing species, before you’re going to have the same habitat that you had before.” 

 

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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