By KIERAN FINNANE
The Town Council has supported Alderman Jane Clark in her request for a report from officers on establishing a tree register, with pruning or removal of significant trees being subject to council approval. Ald Clark put her motion to council after contact from constituents expressing their concern over the destruction of mature trees in the ANZ carpark last weekend.
Steve Thorne, Chair of Northern Territory Urban Design Advisory Council, who headed up the consultant team on the revitalisation of the Alice Springs CBD, has also suggested the establishment of a tree register, as part of an effort to halt the “death by a thousand cuts” that is occurring in our town centre.
Mr Thorne has followed the ANZ tree saga on the Alice Springs News website and wrote: “While I can’t comment on the specifics of the trees on that site, other than that they were specifically identified as being important to the creation of a new streetscape in Parsons Street, their removal raises important issues for Alice Springs.
“I should say that I am deeply saddened by their removal. In an arid climate where trees take such a long time to grow, the removal of mature trees is a matter which requires careful consideration.
“The shade and beauty provided by all trees in Alice, be they exotic or native, has great value, not only physical and cultural, but economic. The cooling effect they have on the ground has been experienced by all who live in Alice, and cannot be dismissed as a trivial issue.
“The slow removal of quality buildings and trees in the public realm in Alice Springs has previously been described as ‘death by a thousand cuts’. This refers not only to the removal of good things to look at and experience, but to the economic consequences as Alice becomes less attractive in the broadest sense.
“For these reasons alone it may be time for the community to record those places and objects which give Alice Springs its character. I feel that a survey should be undertaken and the significant trees in Alice should be mapped, photographed and registered.
“Just as people have endured the harsh climate in Alice, so those trees which have survived for so long demand the same level of respect. It is part of the compelling story of Alice Springs.
“I just hope that if a building is built on the ANZ car park, that it is carefully considered, not only for its functionality but that it is at least as attractive as the trees which stood there until last week.”
At the council meeting, Mayor Damien Ryan suggested that the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) be consulted about the tree register, lest the council be “reinventing the rules”.
Ald Clark was quite clear that AAPA’s responsibilities are with regard to trees that are sacred or significant in the Arrernte tradition. Council has a responsibility to look after other trees “for the long-term benefit of the community”. The focus should be initially on the CBD, she said, and the register needs to be backed up by a by-law, protecting trees of a specific age and type.
Ald Eli Melky expressed his concern about the “total disregard” of the revitalisation plans demonstrated by the carpark owners (Yeperenye Pty Ltd): “I was particularly concerned it could happen under our nose,” he said, urging council to pursue this “serious issue”, with stricter controls, and possibly a by-law.
Only Ald Murray Stewart dissented, worried about council “getting into people’s backyards”, and adding to the “vexed issue around trees” (clearly a reference to various controversies over sacred trees). He asked council “not to go too far” in making things “even more difficult” for the “future development of the town”.
In the same meeting Ald Stewart proposed the formation of a taskforce, comprised of a representative each from the council, the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia, as well as a number of business representatives, to boost business confidence. Business needs “a shot in the arm” and it needs to happen as soon as possible, urged Ald Stewart.
Nobody mentioned the $5m ‘shot in the arm’ that council is sitting on until the middle of next year – the revitalisation projects. If work had started on these as soon as council had made its decision about which projects to prioritise, perhaps the owners of the ANZ carpark would have been brought on board and we would not have lost those mature trees. And perhaps the CBD would be abuzz with the prospect of new ways of doing business and enjoying the areas around the northern end of the mall.
Posted Monday, October 31:
Felling of trees: disappointing and sad, says Mayor
Mayor Damien Ryan has expressed his “disappointment” over the felling of mature red gums at the ANZ carpark, especially given the CBD revitalisation plans for connecting the river to the town in which the trees were to play their part.
“They are the landlord, it’s their prerogative,” he said, referring to Yeperenye Pty Ltd who own the carpark and adjacent real estate, “but it is sad that a different solution could not have been found.”
Alice Springs News Online had asked the mayor and all aldermen whether there should be a by-law to protect mature trees in the municipality, including those on private property. Mayor Ryan said he would need more information about whether a by-law should be created. Alderman Eli Melky expressed his in principle support for a by-law, with obvious provision for the removal of trees that present a danger to the public.
Ald Jane Clark, responding from Thailand where she is studying, said the town needs a tree register in association with a permit system, “stating that permission must be sought from Council before pruning or removing certain types of trees”.
“This would enable Council to consider circumstances and also to save trees we may not yet have added to the register. Creating a register would be expensive and time consuming but certainly worthwhile. I worry for the trees on the Melanka site as well – they need care and protection.”
Ald Sandy Taylor said her “personal opinion is that mature trees should never be chopped down because of the harsh climate we endure here in Alice Springs and the length of time it has taken to grow the trees, many of them much older than myself”. She likened the sudden removal of the trees as similar to the damage done to the tail of the caterpillar site on Barrett Drive (destroyed by a government contractor in December 1982 when the road was being built) and to “the night raiders who demolished Turner House” (a restaurant in Hartley Street controversially bull-dozed in the 1980s).
Both Mayor Ryan and Ald Taylor raised the question of whether the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has been consulted about the removal of the trees. Research Director at the authority, Dr Amanda Markham, said the landowners sought an Authority Certificate to undertake the tree removal work, and that a certificate was issued following consultations with senior custodians.
Custodians had said there were no sites identified on the lot: “The trees were noted as either exotics or as being planted. However, I can confirm that the large river red gums in the YHA [opposite] and those along the river are sacred sites.”
Of course, an Authority Certificate should not be the last word on the protection of trees. There are many ways that trees, including those recently planted and even exotic trees, contribute to our environment – providing shade and beauty for a start. Sacred trees have a special status and are protected by law. The question now is, whether other mature trees also should be afforded some formal protection.
Photo: Google Earth shot from space shows the trees providing shade in the ANZ carpark.
Earlier stories: Chainsaw rules and Felled trees: Q & A.
Council will look at tree register and by-law
By KIERAN FINNANE