“One day there were trees, soon there were piles of stumps and trashed branches, then woodchip and before anyone had time to react, all was gone”, “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN laments the sudden loss of 160 heritage trees at Albert Hall.
The ACT’s Greenslabor government is locked into practices of questionable governance and decision making and has lost the ability to engage honestly and effectively with resident groups.
This government now resides behind a façade of disingenuous and facile spin. It is a government incapable of self-assessment.
There’s a long list of instances that illustrate the above, but for this piece the focus is on one that many may not have noticed, even though it played out in plain sight just off the parliamentary triangle.
In late March the local media reported that 160 heritage pine trees to the north of Albert Hall were removed by City Services because the bureaucracy claimed the trees were a weed species and had reached the end of their safe and useful life.
ACT City Services stated that the 160 trees were to be replaced sometime later this year with a reduced number of trees – 50, being a mix of a different pine and deciduous trees.
Given the reduction in the number of trees in this heritage precinct, the other 110 replacement trees were to be planted in nearby suburbs. Apparently, this weird way of wholesale removal, the partial replacement of the Albert Hall trees and the offset planting of 110 somewhere else would help achieve the government’s 30 per cent canopy cover by 2045.
Think on that! The majority of the replacement heritage trees were to be planted elsewhere. This was an official statement by Chris Steel’s City Services directorate.
The statement was quickly followed through with what can only be described as a quick hit job. One day there were trees, soon there were piles of stumps and trashed branches, then woodchip and before anyone had time to react, all was gone.
It remains a mystery to those who cherish trees, our heritage precincts and the Albert Hall area, just what was the hurry and how it was justified to remove everything at once leaving the area bare.
For a site in central Canberra it should have had a landscape and heritage management plan that included a succession strategy for the timed gradual replacement of trees.
The conclusion is that such a heritage management plan does not exist – or was ignored. Others have questioned the false narrative used to justify the complete removal. While they agree that many of the trees were not in good condition due to the same City Services’ lack of care and maintenance, they know that that description of them all being in bad condition and unsafe was not accurate. Some should have remained as part of a replacement program.
Given the prominent position of these trees on this significant landscape, the level of consultation was minimal – and that’s being generous. It was reported that the ACT Heritage Council was consulted. This is a bit strange given that the ACT Heritage Council was dismissed by the heritage minister in August and a replacement interim council appeared on the books in April. Those associated with the Albert Hall commented that they were not consulted.
Then there is this horrible thought. This same Greenslabor government passed its Urban Forest Bill on March 30 to be enacted in January 2024. This new law would have made it more difficult for City Services to carry out the complete removal of the 160 trees.
So, it was done as quickly as possible because once they were history, it would be too late for anyone to raise objections. This would also explain the lack of planning around the replacements, what they will be and when they will appear.
And, as for being declared a weed, think on that given the manicured surroundings and busy roads and that they had been on that site for decades and no infestations had occurred.
There are many other sites in Canberra with these pines. The managers of the Canberra Arboretum had better be on guard as the Chris Steel mob may arrive to wipe out some of their specimens – those declared to be weeds in the ACT.
Given the trees are gone, possibly removed illegally according to one source, there’s the opportunity for some serious engagements and possibly new ideas about what could be a great community site alongside the historic Albert Hall.
The trouble being a good landscape solution would require an intelligence, creativity, vision and an appreciation of heritage not seen recently within this ACT government.
Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters. There are more of his columns at citynews.com.au
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