Locals in High Cross Park after the Tree Walk. Source: Lydia Watson-Moore

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By LYDIA WATSON-MOORE

Residents have rallied together on National Tree Day to protest the planned removal of more than 400 trees in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

On Sunday June 26, more than 150 concerned locals walked the route of the proposed Sydney South East light rail, which will require the removal of many significant trees, through Randwick.

The event was coordinated by the lobby group Keeping Randwick’s Trees, who have been campaigning for environmental protection in the construction.

The group’s founder, Rickie-Lee McLaurin Smith, said it was “great” that so many residents also shared concerns about the tree removal.

“It’s heartbreaking to see how many trees may be removed, so we’re trying to raise awareness,” she said.

Ms McLaurin Smith said the group was committed to building “people power”, and wanted the government to note their anger.

“We want to contact the people in power, because it matters what the community thinks,” she said.

Ms McLaurin Smith said while she acknowledged that Sydney needs better public transport, she believed it could be done in a smarter way.

“I’m not an engineer or a transport planner, but they can do it without removing the trees. It’s about environmentally sustainable design,” she said.

However, Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has previously declared a commitment to minimising environmental degradation in the project.

“The project has been designed to mitigate impacts to large trees, where possible,” read a TfNSW statement.

“Where the loss of trees is unavoidable, TfNSW has committed to planting replacement trees for every significant tree lost within the local area.”

However, the 150 strong crowd at the Randwick tree day event were not convinced of TfNSW’s environmental ‘commitment’.

One resident, Simon Bartlett, labelled the light rail as an “absolute disaster”, and said it was devastating to see so many “magnificent” large trees facing the chopping block.

He said that the track should instead cut through unused space at the Randwick racecourse, which would have saved the trees on Wansey Road.

“Why not rationalise some of the space of the racecourse?” he said.

Mr Bartlett said he was also disappointed that the cycle track next to the racecourse would be removed.

“God knows where we’re going to cycle now,” he said.

Mr Bartlett’s comments underscore a tense time for cyclists across the city, as demolition of the CBD’s College Street cycleway began on the same day, June 26.

The coordinators from Keeping Randwick Tree’s tied orange ribbons around the trees that face removal along Centennial Park, Wansey Road, High Street and inside High Cross Park.

Among the crowd were Randwick Greens councillors Lindsay Shurey and Murray Matson.

Councillor Matson told City Hub that he was confident that council were close to a deal with the state government to move the light rail stop out of High Cross Park.

“We need to save the trees in this park. I’m positive we’re close to an adjustment, but until we see agreement, we won’t let up,” he said.

Clr Matson said that the community needed to get “more aggressive” about the removal of the trees along the racecourse.

“It’s time to ask serious questions of our local MP’s” he said.