30 May 2022

Fears for new tree rules as mapping shows canopy increase

| Ian Bushnell
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Aranda aerial

Leafy Aranda has the highest tree coverage in the ACT. Photo: Nearmap.

The ACT Government has moved to allay fears that it has compromised the viability of the tree canopy targets and site coverage ratios laid out in Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan.

It came as new data showed that while all residential suburbs in Canberra have gained tree cover since the introduction of the Urban Forest Strategy last year, stark differences in tree coverage remained between old and new areas.

The North Canberra Community Council wrote to Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman expressing its alarm at a Ministerial direction in May that it said made significant changes to approved Variation 369, which meant the new rules to maintain and increase green space in residential areas would not apply to blocks in estate developments approved after 1 January 2020.

READ ALSO Plant two or pay up – government proposes tough new tree removal laws

In some cases V369, which increases urban tree canopy and permeable surfaces to 30 per cent in urban areas, would also not apply to estate developments before January 2020.

The council told Mr Gentleman this would be excessively restrictive and meant V369 would only apply to a very small percentage of blocks in the ACT.

Tree coverage by suburb

Tree coverage by suburb. Source: Nearmap.

But Mr Gentleman said V369 was an interim step to ground the Living Infrastructure goals and promised that the new rules would eventually apply to all residential and commercial areas in Canberra when the new Territory Plan comes into force in early to mid-2023.

He said the changes to V369 were designed to protect people who had bought house and land packages in good faith during the boom created by government COVID-19 stimulus measures.

“Variation 369, as it was originally proposed in early 2020, would have prevented some of those buyers from building the home they had recently purchased as part of a house and land package,” Mr Gentleman said.

Coombs aerial

The new suburb of Coombs has one of the lowest tree coverage levels in the ACT. Photo: Nearmap.

He said blocks in established suburbs would be required to comply with V369 when it came into effect on 1 September 2022, including in situations where blocks were consolidated or subdivided.

“Variation 369 is an important first step in introducing living infrastructure requirements into our planning system,” Mr Gentleman said.

“The new Territory Plan we’re working on, which will be open to the community for feedback in the coming months, will look to increase living infrastructure requirements above and beyond those set out in Variation 369, including in commercial zones and in estate development plans.

READ ALSO Vassarotti talks trees in the ACT

“The changes introduced by Variation 369 are an interim measure to enable builders, architects, designers and others the opportunity to change their house designs to enable more trees and green spaces in Canberra backyards.

“The timeframe distinction for blocks approved under an estate development plan on or after 1 January 2020 set out in the recent Ministerial Direction will be removed when the new Territory Plan comes into effect in 2023.

“Living infrastructure provisions will then apply to all residential zoned blocks, regardless of when the block was approved.”

Franklin aerial

Franklin’s dense housing coverage leaves little room for green spaces. Photo: Nearmap.

Tree cover analysis from location intelligence and aerial imagery company Nearmap has quantified changes in tree cover across 93 suburbs by analysing high-resolution aerial imagery and artificial intelligence data sets on matched seasons from 2021 and 2022.

The analysis found the median suburb achieved a relative increase of 5.4 per cent in residential tree canopy coverage, with Aranda ranked as Canberra’s leafiest residential suburb.

Overall, the median suburb has 24 per cent residential tree canopy coverage and 10 suburbs have already achieved the ACT target of 30 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, older inner suburbs have more green space and trees than newer areas with much higher housing densities.

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The issue with the Facebook post highlighting the ACT government report that says Isaacs is the leafiest suburb in Canberra. That’s false data analysis as the Isaacs suburb boundary (unlike most other Canberra suburbs) doesn’t follow the Urban footprint, but the suburb boundary instead extends to the top of the ridge line that includes the densely wooded Isaacs Ridge Pine Forest. Thus giving a false impression of the level of the Urban Tree Canopy for the suburb.

The ACT government has become a master at twisting or cherry picking data to suit their narrative.

Especially in the areas of public transport, public education, land and housing.

Capital Retro2:46 pm 02 Jun 22

Radiata pine trees don’t have leaves, they have needles. Doubt if the ACT government knows the difference.

Po Oh Baer

*Having double checked my facts with someone who is working on the Urban Forrest project.

They suggested the journalist ask Rachel for ALL comparative data 2021/2022 by suburb (not just a snapshot of the ACT’s wealthiest and greenest suburbs in 2022 as reported here). There have most definitely been declines in some of the median/ “typical” suburbs, which internally has set off some alarm bells, yet despite this they are reporting a positive overall story here?!

Also request the time of year which these comparisons were made, and even the time of day that the comparison images were captured. This LiDAR imaging has been proven to be highly subjective in the past, analysis of data back in 2015 indicated a +/- 3% variance in their modelling for all of the ACT.

Also in the most recent report, which they possibly won’t share (wonders why?), there are cautionary notes on over-calculating the canopy values due to Canberra experiencing two incredibly wet seasons leaving everything lush and green.

12 months of data is simply inadequate to determine any reliable trend.

In some older suburbs I have heard that the ‘calculated’ green areas have declined yoy.

In the outer suburbs of course there will be an increase, you are starting from a zero base; however the knockdowns in older suburbs where the site is cleared and two/three concrete mini palaces are built – is definitely eating into the amount of tree cover in these suburbs.

This is a good start but to claim with only 12 months data that we are all ok? is Barr data manipulation at its finest.

Bigger houses have more energy use. Imagine those lego bricks in summer no breeze and running the AC on full all day with no trees.

Using a percentage of land for canopy means that the requirement for trees is borne by those with larger blocks but smaller homes. Surely there should be a small lot tax where they have to support trees located off their property. Why should the larger space but smaller more efficient homes be made to pay a higher rate.

Which suburb used the most coal power?

PlasticScene7:31 pm 31 May 22

Too many trees, they mostly block views, threaten roofs and other structures, and block otherwise beautiful views. Give me sunlight and views any day before trees!

HiddenDragon6:48 pm 31 May 22

“It came as new data showed that while all residential suburbs in Canberra have gained tree cover since the introduction of the Urban Forest Strategy last year…”

That would have much more to do with rainfall over the last year than with the Urban Forest Strategy, the early stages of which are largely about the review of the Tree Protection Act.

News earlier this year that the Act will be extended to cover all trees over 8m. tall, and the resultant proliferation of chainsaw activity in the suburbs, will likely see canopy cover stall or shrink – which will, of course (with the Alice in Wonderland system of logic which is so often apparent in ACT government policy making) be pointed to as justification for more stringent tree protection rules being applied to many more trees.

Given Canberra’s history with fires, I think there should be guidelines / rules around the types of trees and shrubs being planted in and around suburbia. Planting natives such as eucalypts is ridiculous as they are the most flammable trees known and renowned for spreading fires. Tree selection around suburbia should be based on a fire-retardant factor so any fires will be slowed down or cooled. Very few natives are fire retardant. Something like an oak is not just fire retardant but also deciduous and works better in suburbia. Lets in sun during the winter and provides shade in summer.

Nothing makes a suburb feel better than having established trees, these new build areas look so depressing.

Doesn’t the oldest suburb of Kingston have the or one of the highest housing densities? And while it doesn’t make that top 10, i’m sure it comes pretty close

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