23 February 2024

ACT Government's 30 per cent tree canopy goal in trouble, audit finds

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
TCCS worker planting trees

The tree planting program is facing logistical challenges and resistance from some residents. Photo: ACT Government.

The ACT Government has had to trim its ambitious tree planting program in the face of supply and contracting issues and opposition from residents, putting at risk its ability to achieve its goal of 30 per cent tree canopy cover across Canberra by 2045, an audit has found.

ACT Auditor-General Michael Harris has tabled the first report of the year, Urban Tree Management, which assessed the effectiveness of Transport and City Services’ management of urban trees to support the canopy goal.

The report says that to achieve it, the government sought to plant 450,000 trees by 2045, or 20,000 trees a year, but it has been forced to lower its expectations.

READ ALSO Fewer APS consultants means less revenue for ACT Government

TCCS now proposes planting 5000 trees in 2024-25, 5000 trees in 2025-26 (half of the previous target), and 10,000 trees in 2026-27.

TCCS did manage to significantly increase its planting program from 2021 and still hopes to plant 54,000 trees through to 2023-24.

However, the report says the 2045 goal will be out of reach “without appropriate planning, or other mitigation strategies, to make up this shortfall in future years and address the ongoing risks and challenges to the planting program”.

These challenges include securing in-house and contractor resources, an appropriate supply of tree stock, and resistance from residents.

The audit also says a lack of policy and strategy within TCCS and collaboration with other directorates are hindering the tree-planting program.

TCCS says many residents want to keep their verge space for illegal car parking and are also worried about the safety of large species, their root systems, and the care they need.

The audit says finding other locations for trees when residents oppose plantings is a time-consuming and costly process.

Staff also face abuse and the trees may be vandalised or removed, although TCCS says it endeavours to talk to residents about the benefits of trees and the type of species planted.

Yarralumla Nursery supplies tree stock, but there is not any documented arrangement with TCCS, something the audit says poses a risk to the program “with the potential for each party to not clearly understand their roles, responsibilities and what they need to deliver to support a successful partnership”.

The nursery also lacks enough space to store trees and has been unable to maintain tree stock’s health when planting programs were delayed.

TCCS says it is seeking additional holding areas for trees and investigating using other nurseries.

The audit says TCCS expects future tree planting activities to focus on removing and replacing mature trees and working with other directorates to identify opportunities to increase canopy cover on other land.

It also says there are tensions between the government’s biodiversity and canopy coverage goals, with planting locations limited by efforts to maintain and promote biodiversity in urban areas.

The audit urges cross-directorate collaboration and discussion to balance these competing priorities and work towards increasing planting opportunities and, ultimately, canopy cover in urban areas.

It also says TCCS has not developed policy guidance about how urban tree management and planting are expected to contribute to achieving the canopy cover goal.

What is explicitly missing is how the planting of trees on unleased land is managed and coordinated to achieve the canopy cover goal, including tree plantings by other directorates.

READ ALSO Government seeks team to turn Acton Waterfront park design into reality

The audit says TCCS has also not yet developed a ‘strategic tree replacement program’ or a strategic approach to replacing ageing trees.

However, it intends to engage environmental consultants to undertake a condition report of the ACT’s urban forest, progressively map suburbs at risk of losing canopy due to ageing trees, and employ a senior arborist to inspect mature trees and develop a timeline for renewal.

“These activities should be undertaken as a matter of priority,” the audit says.

It also says TCCS needs to improve its public reporting and data gathering.

The audit makes 11 recommendations.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
GrumpyGrandpa4:59 pm 26 Feb 24

At our place, the government wanted to put in a second street tree that would have blocked our access to the rear yard. Needless to say, I objected and no tree was planted.

I think the government is going to continue to encounter resistance. Trees might have advantages, but no one wants to climb on their roof to clean out their gutters or deal with the potential damage that trees can cause.

As for illegal parking on “nature strips”, nearly every house in our street has a parking area on the “nature strip”. I’d like to see the government fining 70% of households, in an election year. 😳

The ACT governent is too ready to remove trees and that exacerbates the problem. Why would the government ignore it’s own rules, on somany things related to development, trees, retention and planting, etc,? Perhaps the entirety of the planning rules have merely become pure farce. What good are rules when there is no enforcement or follow-though? Similarly endless legislation without any maintenance of the underlying Territory Plan simplly smacks of incompetence, or dereliction of duty. When too many people are employed to do the same work, nothing ever gets done. Less is more in that contect.

Just a thought…..maybe the disappearance of the trees is caused by the same “so-called disease” that allowed the removal of all the trees down Northbourne Ave for the little boys tram.. Come on they are being planted in ridiculous spots. How about releasing land for families to have a house on , then they could plant trees, instead of horrible little boxes you are forcing people into.

Marilyn Allen12:50 pm 26 Feb 24

People are pathetic about their view which I understand but we must lower the use of aircconditioning People dont get that the heat from the road contributes greatly to home heat Perhaps in some cases it would be appropriate to plant deciduous trees

I for one would not buy a house with a big eucalypt on the nature strip.

I am not alone in that so why would anyone want a nature strip tree out front that potentially devalues their house by putting buyers off?

The other issue is that the ACT government bears zero responsibility for the damage caused by their inappropriately planted trees so it’s no wonder they get pulled up.

The huge eucalypt outside my partners hose drops enough debris every two weeks to fill her green bin yet the ACT government won’t provide a second bin to dispose of THEIR rubbish.

The tree falls on your house or your car. The governments response “you have insurance to pay for that damage”.

Are we supposed to dump all of that tree’s debris in the gutter where it washes down the storm water system and blocks it? That’s pushing the problem right back onto the same government that causes it.

Well, we now see an admission that nothingshould get between a Canberran and their “right” to access illegal verge parking near their home, even if it means parking over, poisoning or pulling out a tree. Sort of confirms that you can’t have nice stuff around here any more.

Tom McLuckie5:55 pm 25 Feb 24

In response to Carla McGregor, the only people stealing funds for their pet projects are the current Government..in power for nearly 23 years but it’s the Libs fault services are crap or not planned? Are you serious? Labor and Greens have (and evidenced by government reporting) purposefully cuts funding to health, diverted funds from public housing to the tram, and policing..so who is cutting funds to services to pay for their utopian Canberra? Typical painted on Green / Labor voter totally uninformed, no a tual facts, and bashing an opposition for the faults of the Government with the “it may be bad under Labor and Greens but it would be SO much worse under Liberals or anyone else”. Thats like saying it wasn’t great under the Nazis in Germany, but would have been a whole lot worse if it was the Commies. Give me a break with this nonsensical unintelligent commentary.

Have to agree with you Tom. As Carla says, past performance is indicative of future results, which is why we need to get rid of the current government as they’ve ripped us all off over decades and left us with a much poorer community than we had, with terrible public transport, awful health system and a huge rise in homelessness. They must go. I don’t know what the Libs will be like, but I struggle to see how they could do worse than this current mob.

There’s vast swathes of empty weed-filled paddocks everywhere, must be over 1000 ha all up dotted through the further out areas of the city, and even closer in like around Mitchell. What arbitrary bureaucratic BS prevents those areas too from having trees planted?

HiddenDragon8:30 pm 24 Feb 24

The 30 per cent tree canopy goal is ultimately an arbitrary target and should be treated as such, but whatever the ambition, and however it is expressed the “we know best so do as you’re told, and by the way, we’re watching” authoritarianism of the ACT public sector, along with a patchy (to put it very kindly) response when things go wrong have combined to destroy so much of the public trust and good will which would be essential to maintaining good canopy cover on public and private land.

They’re fighting a losing battle and the essentially inward-looking recommendations of the Audit report, even if followed to the letter, will do little to change the trajectory of failure.

The most interesting part of this article is that the government is at odds with the people? If there is so much pushback from the people about parking on the verge why isn’t that legal? People don’t want dangerous destructive trees why are they forced to have them. 90% of residents would support people having the voice. Why is it always that the 10% always have the final say.

Household solar reduces the carbon footprint. Planting trees in the burbs reduces the effectiveness of solar by more than the impact of the trees. Unless we are plaining really short trees the solar for many is going to be a waste of time once the trees get too big.

Capital Retro12:04 pm 24 Feb 24

When the ACT Government “canopy” people turn up in their EVs in Gilmore they park on the verge or reserves next to no parking signs.

William Newby11:32 pm 23 Feb 24

There is zero chance in hell they will ever reach 30%.
The urban in-fill strategy is largely at odds with this initiative, every large back yard will have all its trees cut down so that a second residence can be built by 2030.
Small streets will be clogged with cars due to insufficient parking spaces for new multiple units, Canberra will be significantly degraded.
This 30% will never happen, in fact wherever we are at today is as good as it will ever be, cutting down trees is still far to easy in the ACT.

Just like the countless trees I saw being planted around my area in the stinking heat and died days later. They are still dead sticks in the ground. TCCS can’t even plant trees properly. When is this agency going to be dragged as it clearly has no clue on the simplest of tasks.

Anyone want to guess which suburbs and areas people are refusing or removing trees that have planted? My guess is that it directly correlates with smaller blocks, and higher density housing.

Tom McLuckie9:01 pm 23 Feb 24

The Canberra Greens – destroying the Bush capital one policy failure at a time. Building heat islands with high density residences, needlessly culling large mobs of roos all round the territory and pouring millions of tonnes of concrete and laying steel tracks to build their dream of a city wide light rail pouring millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (and it will cost multiple billions). And yet deluded Canberrans keep voting for them because they believe the care for the “environment”. Incredible hypocrisy.

You are massively deluded if you think this is a Greens problem. All these things you brought up are not Greens decisions, which shows you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Anyway, consider the alternative with a Libs govt. It would be a whole lot worse because they don’t even consider the environment or people in their ‘planning’ processes. Their motives will be all about greed and which big business or Christian group gives them the most donations.

What is the basis of the liberal comment who is they?
Name a liberal that is running that did that while in power.

Rusted on Labor and single party antidemocratic nonsense.

Tom McLuckie6:54 am 25 Feb 24

Now who is deluded. Are you saying a Minister (Green or Labor) cannot be held to account for failed policies and not meeting targets? Like most painted on Green voters, you are delusional if you think the current ACT Green /Labor Government are actually considering the environment and the people in its planning decisions. They have a very cozy relationship with the major developers where revenue from land sales and restricting land release has driven up property prices and also rents (we have the worst rental affordability for low income earners in the country) due to their policies. Not having a plan to replace ageing tree is a policy failure. Not having resources to carry out the work is a policy failure.
Would you call evicting long term public housing residents without their consent so we can sell the land and build Barr and Rattenbury high density treeless utopia taking care of people? Pull your head out of the sand.

GrumpyGrandpa7:39 pm 23 Feb 24

Sounds like a brain-fart of an idea without any proper planning.

On some vacant land near our place, a large number of trees were planted; overplanted if anything. I figured in a breeze, their branches would be rubbing and potentially breaking.

Problem has been resolved. The grass got hip height before it was mowed and the mower operators, not being able to see the trees, cut them down.

I our street, the hopeless ACT government lawn mower guy backed into two recently planted gums and essentially killed them. Didn’t even bother to get out of his seat to check – even though it was obvious he had run them over

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.