2 March 2022

Heritage windbreak planting 'defies logic', casts shadow over new Downer homes

| Ian Bushnell
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Bradfield residents, Downer

Some of the 40 Bradfield residents calling for appropriate tree planting: (from left) Robin, Neal, Maria, Robyn, Rob, Karen, Tess and Joe. The Heritage Council is insisting the windbreak relic in the background should be replanted with `like for like’ Canary Island pines. Photo: Supplied.

More than 40 residents of new north-facing apartments and townhouses in Downer face the prospect of a heritage-listed green wall rising in front of their properties, blocking out the sun and views.

The ACT Heritage Council ordered two rows of Canary Island pines to be planted on ACT Government land on Bradfield Street. They will replace part of the heritage-listed Monterey pines windbreak grown by the CS&IR Dickson Experiment Farm in the 1940s, torn down to build the The Bradfield housing development.

As part of the approval, the developer was required to replace the Monterey pines as they neared the end of their lives.

Residents first raised their concerns with the Heritage Council and local MLA and Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti last October. But the only concession, to move the plantings three metres toward the road, came a day after 21 trees were planted in front of the 36 apartments on 10 January this year.

Two more rows of Canary Island pines are soon to be planted in front of nine townhouses facing Bradfield Street.

There is also a row of silver birches in front of the properties, planted as part of the development. They will likely fail in the shadow of the pines as the conifers head to their full height of 25 metres.

Residents representative Robyn Sirr said the minister broke off communications last October, deferring to the Heritage Council, which has not been for moving, apart from the 3m concession, a marginal measure that would not make any tangible difference.

The residents had proposed alternative ways for on-site heritage values to be acknowledged, without destroying solar access for residences.

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The Heritage Council responded by quoting the solar access rule that apartments only required a minimum three hours of sunlight at midday on the winter solstice.

“It just seems such an inappropriate weighting in era when we really should be aware of what makes good design for climate science, for mental health,” she said.

“To reimpose plantings from the 1940s that were in an agricultural context, and insist on reproducing that permanently again and again just makes no sense.”

The group last wrote to the Heritage Council on 17 February asking when the pines would be transplanted and who would pay for it.

The frustrated residents also wrote to Chief Minister Andrew Barr outlining their case but have yet to receive a response.

Ms Sirr said the plantings made no sense without the original rural setting and all good design demanded north-facing aspects to capture the sunshine.

She said the residents supported appropriate varieties, not a dense windbreak of pines.

“It will make homes dark and increase energy use. It confounds logic,” Ms Sirr said.

“All my windows are north facing, eventually whether I’m in it or not that home will be dark all year round and cold in winter.”

She said some townhouse residents had installed solar panels, which would be useless when the trees overshadowed them.

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Ms Sirr said a woman in the complex, who once taught at Downer Primary School in the shade of the windbreak, described the building as cold, dark and miserable.

She said the ACT Government’s own website listed the Canary Island pine as unsuitable for street tree planting due to its height and breadth.

Ms Sirr was not alerted to the situation until she moved in last year.

“I was not made aware when I bought the apartment that evergreens were going to be planted out the front on ACT Government land,” she said.

“It just never occurred to me to ask. I just assumed good design would mean you do deciduous or native trees. I was just shocked when I became aware of it.”

The issue will also impact the nearby proposed Goodwin aged care development in which ageing Montereys will have to come down and be replaced by pines to comply with the heritage ruling.

Ms Sirr said although it would be some time before the pines grew, the decision would affect residents well into the future.

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Does the Conservation Management Plan required of the owners require the windbreak be retained? If so the purchasors should have been told about that before they bought.

Canberra, where the NIMBYS go to die

ChrisinTurner1:53 pm 05 Mar 22

Good to see some trees being protected.

The Minister and the Heritage Council must realise they can do better than applying earlier-era solutions in the looming environmental crisis. Sunshine (up to a point) and shade (up to a point) need to be more finely re-balanced than in the old-fashioned “three hours in mid-winter” formula. Fire, too, must now be hugely taken into account for when the next really big bushfire sweeps right across a tinder-dry Canberra top-heavy with wood & leaf fuel.

limestonecowboy1:19 pm 05 Mar 22

This is absurd and absolute madness. There is plenty of heritage already retained in around the site including the old CSIRO buildings that comprise the Downer Shops. Monterey Pines or Radiata as they are commonly called in forestry are absolutely unsuitable in urban environments. They are not much better than a weed and block sunlight and crowd out almost all other growth. Their use in forestry is pragmatic, they are a good, not great timber for construction. If the CSIRO was still in situ I believe they would be adopting the latest in building design and including passive solar principles if they were changing the purpose of their buildings or rebuilding (as are the new residents.
The Radiata pines adjacent to housing in Weston Creek in 2003 were a disaster waiting to happen. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and four people died when the fires, fuelled largely by the pines overwhelmed the suburbs. Whilst these trees are not at the urban interface they are a potential hazard, incompatible with energy efficient design and are not particularly aesthetic. The original plantings were a utilitarian windbreak to protect the experimental (poppy) crops.
I have great sympathy with these people, solar access is critical to amenity in any building and is absolutely a right.
I grew up in Downer, we arrived in 1964, I still have property there, any nostalgia or attachment to those pines is totally diminished by my belief that passive solar principles are the best way to reduce domestic energy consumption.
It would be appropriate to retain some of the windbreak where it doesn’t cause shading issues. For god’s sake they aren’t even proposing to replant the same species….how honest and authentic is that. Utter madness and bloody mindedness on the part of the Heritage Council.

Solar access rules need to be tightened. Now we have climate change to deal with, and a correctly designed house or unit can get most of it’s winter heating from the sun and so reduce energy use, but not with only three hours of sun a day.

Finagen_Freeman10:54 am 05 Mar 22

Greedy owners. The terms were in the settlement agreements. It’s like rich Sydneysiders trying to cut down trees to improve their harbour views.

Trees were in the detail.

Finagen_Freeman, Unnecessary, ignorant comment. I see you don’t believe in solar heating to help cut down unnecessary energy use. Deciduous trees could have been planted instead. You are being short sighted and not thinking this out.

Yeah, how dare they want access to natural light while proposing sensible tree alternatives. So selfish of them to care about sustainability and the wellbeing of all future apartment dwellers.

G’day Finegan_Freeman. First up, my conflict of interest. I’m one of the residents involved. The article doesn’t make it clear that residents suggested three options to the Heritage Council, and the government. ALL options included trees (deciduous), and one included a deciduous pine that does grow in this region. The government needs to heed its own rhetoric on climate change, and it needs to adhere to its own regulations re appropriate street trees, and while we’re at it, the Heritage Council needs to represent better the remaining 400m of heritage pines around the Downer ovals. Seriously F_F, it’s nothing like Sydney siders wanting a view of the Harbour.

Hello Finegan,
Any plant in the wrong place is a weed and that includes trees.

It makes no economic or environmental sense for people to be burning fossil fuels to light and heat their homes because their properties solar aspect has been blocked by a tree.

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