By Andrew Woodhouse
Tree is not a four-letter word. A tree is a living thing and contributes to our healthy urban environment.
So locals in Kings Cross are surprised and shocked to learn that the City of Sydney Council is intending to demolish what appears to be a perfectly healthy tree without adequate justification.
It has stapled a Tree Removal Notice to a tree in Fitzroy Gardens, Kings Cross about 10 metres north-east of the El-Alamein fountain. Unusually, according to council’s phone service staff, no council reference number appears on the notice, making it difficult to trace and log progress, a convenient truth.
Acre negundo, its botanical name, is a well-known and well-loved species.
Scientific research shows it is a type of fast-growing box tree with golden autumnal leaves, reaching up to 35 metres and is now naturalised on the Australian continent.
So why must this tree be euthanised, read chain-sawed? Expensive works will involve demolition, ground excavation, trunk, limb and root removal, wood pulping and tile replacement.
All this combined constitutes “major works”.
This noble, silent sentinel is also home to a bird’s nest whose entrance is in its trunk. Why are fauna being evicted from their home just prior to Christmas?
Council’s notice claims the tree is “over-mature”.
This is not a scientific or aborists’ term. It is a meaningless, nebulous piece of word play. And it could apply to you – or me.
So will council kill us off too?
It’s analogous to saying: “You’re over 55 now. Time to go, permanently.”
This tree is not senescent. It is not dead or dying.
It enjoys abundant new growth and is flourishing. It is not dropping bark or limbs.
It is not a public safety hazard. Its sprouts new shoots. There is no evidence of internal or external fungal disease or tree rot. It is not leaning dangerously.
No complaints have been lodged about this tree.
And provides much-need shade in Summer. Council’s own website notes that “a lush urban canopy is important for Sydney and provides benefits beyond visual pleasure. Trees or improve our air quality through photosynthesis [and] play a crucial role in reducing the urban heat island effect … when temperatures stay warmer longer due to a concentration of heat absorbent surfaces, such as roads … This matters for people living in the inner city, as temperatures continue to rise.
Trees also filter toxins from the first flush of stormwater run-off after rainfall and keep the soil porous, allowing stormwater absorption rather than draining into the harbour. And most would agree that they would rather watch branches moving in the breeze outside their window than many human-built structures.
In just 12 months, one mature tree can absorb 3,400 litres of stormwater, filter 27kg of pollutants from the air and provide a cooling effect equivalent to running ten air-conditioners continuously.”
Hooray for that. Locals are “rooting” for trees and their tree roots.
At Sydney Council’s recent, well-attended community survey for its hypothetical 2050 plan, Clover Moore told us that residents said parks and gardens and trees were must-haves to maintain and increase their liveability. So why go against the people’s wishes now?
And Acre negundo is an integral component of its heritage-listed Fitzroy Gardens, Kings Cross.
The much-cherished Fitzroy Gardens Park has social, aesthetic, rarity, representative and associative heritage significance. Council’s recommended Plan of Management states that:
“A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the park prior to any major works being undertaken. …
An Interpretation Strategy be developed”.
But council has refuses to provide these documents so far justifying pulping this precious tree.
It refuses to say what might replace this tree, only that this issue will be decided later behind closed doors. Another sap-dripping, bark and limb-dropping gum tree?
And just recently, other trees in Macleay Street have also been demolished, creating a history and modus operandi of green canopy removal.
Locals are now rallying to save this tree and are lodging a petition.
They say they want the tree saved, the bird’s nest retained, no work without a published, Heritage Impact Statement, a fauna impact report, an independent arborist’s report and council’s Interpretive Strategy.
It has been suggested that the tree contractor proposing the removal is also the one who will be paid, using our rates, to remove it. This suggestion is unconfirmed but would create an obvious prima-facie conflict of interest. The contractor generates their income by recommending tree removal, a circular saw approach to work creation.
Council must ensure that any company suggests or promoting tree removal is not directly or indirectly paid to remove any tree.
To sign the Save Our Trees petition go the Kings Cross Community Centre, a non-profit, community-based organisation: 50-58 Macleay Street, Potts Point NSW 2011. Their office is at the end of the arcade next to Maggie’s Restaurant on the left of Fitzroy Gardens, Potts Point.
The Centre’s opening hours are 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Phone 9357 2164.