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Call for Conservator to resign over Manuka tree decision as row heads to ACAT

Ian Bushnell 18 June 2019 113
London plane tree

The London plane tree in question. The Liangis family says it has to go for anything to happen on the site. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The owner of the Capitol Theatre building in Manuka has launched a blistering attack on the ACT Conservator for Flora and Fauna, calling on him to resign over his decision to enforce the protection of a registered tree that is holding up a major hotel development on the site.

John Liangis says the London plane tree, which has grown up in the easement between two buildings on Franklin Street, should never have been registered in 2012 and is now not only blocking the hotel plans but any work on the site, including repairs or maintenance.

The Liangis family has had plans for the site for years, eventually lodging a development application in June last year and having it approved in October subject to certain conditions, including the deregistering of the tree, which appears to have not been planted but sprouted from a former street tree.

But Conservator for Flora and Fauna, Ian Walker rejected the family’s bid to strip the tree of its protected status, despite the Chief Planner Ben Ponton supporting the application, in a decision widely regarded as sending a message to developers.

The decision has infuriated the Liangis family, and now Inner South businesses have thrown their weight behind the hotel proposal, sending a letter to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman calling on the Government to reverse Mr Walker’s decision.

The base of the tree showing its position between the two buildings.

They fear that Manuka, already hurting, will deteriorate and lose further business.

Mr Liangis, who is in the process of appealing to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, said Mr Walker had ignored a mountain of documented evidence from engineers, arborists, landscape architects, and town planners about the damage the tree is doing.

He said the tree’s roots had spread throughout the entire block and into the sewer, destroying the pipes, and it was cracking the wall of the cinema.

“It’s been growing in an easement quite vigorously, because it’s been feeding off raw sewage for most of its life,” he said.

“How can it be part of the streetscape when it’s sandwiched between two buildings?”

Mr Liangis said the actual street trees nearby were stunted because the plane tree, which was big for its age, took all their nutrition and they cannot get enough sunlight under its large canopy.

“When the tree goes, those trees will flourish and create that beautiful streetscape,” he said.

He said Mr Walker’s decision had made a mockery of the Tree Register.

“He should resign. Trees matter but so do people. They can’t use the Register to destroy people’s lives. The people of Canberra have lost confidence in the Office of the Conservator,” Mr Liangis said.

He said the hotel proposal could not incorporate the tree into its design, saying the block was too small.

“It’s impossible. The canopy alone almost covers the entire block. Its root system stretches out well into Canberra Avenue. So any idea that a design could be built around that tree is just nonsense,” he said.

Mr Liangis said two award-winning architectural firms had looked at it and were unanimous that the tree could not remain on that block.

He said the family had offered to plant trees anywhere the Government wanted as an offset.

A drawing of the proposed Stage 1 of the hotel development that has been approved.

Eighty-one businesses in Manuka, Kingston and Deakin have signed the letter to the Minister and Members of the Legislative Assembly for Kurrajong.

The letter says the tree is holding up the revitalisation of Manuka Group Centre and the creation of hundreds of jobs, adding tens of millions of dollars to the local economy.

The hotel would bring tens of thousands of hotel guests each year, most of whom would be serviced by Manuka and Kingston businesses, it says.

“The proposed development is both vibrant and classical in design; as such, it will bring patrons and life to a side of Manuka that has typically been obscure and quiet,” the letter says.

John-Paul Romano from Italian Brothers Fine Foods in Manuka said businesses feared Manuka would end up like the Curtin shops where a planning row left one side of the centre abandoned.

“Does it become a Curtin-style stoush where the buildings get hoarded up, graffitied and vandalised and further detracts from Manuka?” he said.

The Kingston Barton Residents Group supports the tree’s continued protected status.

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113 Responses to
Call for Conservator to resign over Manuka tree decision as row heads to ACAT
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1:40 pm 21 Jun 19

Save trees. We need them for so many reasons.

ChrisinTurner 11:17 am 21 Jun 19

It strange how the Conservator agrees to losing 160 trees and five playgrounds for the ABC Flats redevelopment then suddenly decides this tree is important.

8:04 am 21 Jun 19

I think Hotels are good for areas like Kingston and Manuka, because they bring visitors to the shopping precinct. These are well needed. I watch businesses struggle and fail in the three communities -all of which we love. I do admire the Art Deco styling of the Manuka Theatre and would like to see it preserved. It's a stunning feature. However, if we are talking about a non native plane tree, which can be replaced - then do it - cut it down.

7:53 am 21 Jun 19

And are we talking about that ugly, dirty area on the corner block? Sad and neglected. Oh yes - we are.

10:22 pm 20 Jun 19

If they have been the owner of the block for a number of years they stuffed up in allowing it to get to that size. Should have done something when it started growing

BlowMeDown 7:22 pm 20 Jun 19

The tree was there when they bought the property. Precedence has weight in my opinion.

2:50 pm 20 Jun 19

Keep the tree. Find somewhere else for your hotel.

10:46 am 20 Jun 19

Why don’t they make that block a small open park space with other plantings? 🤦🏻‍♀️ Oh, I forgot, that doesn’t make money and only improves well being.

8:42 am 20 Jun 19

This may be my most favourite tree in all of Canberra 🌳

9:35 pm 19 Jun 19

Tim Wong Caitlin is allergic to this tree in the spring/summer when it fruits! 😫 Canberra should start getting rid of these trees and plant native species.

HiddenDragon 6:35 pm 19 Jun 19

The issue here is probably more to do with the relevant rules, than with the officials currently administering them –

Aside from pursuing individual cases, influential people with rather deep pockets might also find benefit in generating serious public debate over the broader issues here (particularly regarding substantial curtailment of property rights without any form of compensation).

For every major developer unhappy with the current tree protection laws, and the administration of them, there will be many, many more Canberra homeowners whose lives are being made a misery by these laws – and yet this issue never surfaces in public political debate. Perhaps it is time for that to change.

6:00 pm 19 Jun 19

A plant in the wrong place is a weed

    1:33 am 20 Jun 19

    And it’s an ugly and destructive tree. If it was an animal it would be classed as feral and culled. Plane trees belong in a park not in the middle of a commercial zone.

5:41 pm 19 Jun 19

No sympathy from me for the woman who demolished the iconic Manuka Theatre. - plant more trees

5:14 pm 19 Jun 19

If the tree is on public land it must contravening planing regulations, and the government has an ongoing duty of care to make good damages caused to adjoining building and sewage, for as long as the tree exists on site. I would assume with time the tree will continue growing and eventually cause structural damage to the properties and eventually deem the building unsafe for occupancy. Think the government needs to employ some forward thinking and get rid of the tree.

4:10 pm 19 Jun 19

Developer calls for conservator to resign 😂😂😂. Change your plans and keep a green area.

1:56 pm 19 Jun 19

What a joke! Manuka is no longer thriving and something needs to be done. Businesses are closing. The Chief Planner supported the recommendation.

1:44 pm 19 Jun 19

Gotta love the death balls of pollen in spring!! Get rid of it and plant other trees!!

12:23 pm 19 Jun 19

I’ve got a solution, they could knock down that ugly capital theatre they own and build it there?

12:07 pm 19 Jun 19

The governance don’t Care. You might as well just chop it down yourself

9:24 am 19 Jun 19

I’m with the Tree🤘

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