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Light rail: Government accused of misleading public on Stage 2 tree removals

Ian Bushnell 6 August 2018 68

Looking towards the city at the 92-year-old trees slated for removal if Stage 2 of light rail is approved. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government will only be able to replant trees on Commonwealth and Kings Avenues during construction of the tram line to Woden by taking out a traffic lane, according to urban planner John Easthope.

Mr Easthope, who worked for the National Capital Development Commission in the 1980s and for the past 20 years had been designing Canberra suburbs, has accused the Government of misleading the public over the planned removal of 28 historic trees on Commonwealth Avenue and about 20 others on Kings Avenue.

He says the Government needs to come clean about why the 92-year-old trees have to go, rejecting the claim that they are in decline and saying they should be considered for their heritage value and retained.

“I would like to point out that the trees are to be removed to allow the construction of the light rail in the median and its footprint requirements and not [because of] health issues. I would further outline that due to the impact of rail construction there will be insufficient room to plant trees legally,” Mr Easthope wrote in a recent letter to City News in support of horticulturalist Cedric Bryant.

The Stage 2 Light Rail Update says the original Charles Weston 1920s cedar plantings have a life expectancy (assessed in 2013) ranging from five to 40 years, citing the National Capital Authority assessment that ‘many of the street trees are declining, and it’s timely to plan for tree renewal’.

But Mr Easthope told The RiotACT that the 12-metre wide median was not wide enough to cater for the tram and trees, particularly low-branching cedars like the ones slated for removal.

“I measured the tracks and clearances. Because the median is 12 metres wide, you need nine metres for the tram and one-and-a-half metres to plant a tree, let alone a cedar,” he said.

“All those trees  have to go because there is no room, and there is no room to replant trees, unless they take a lane and reduce the number of lanes on Commonwealth Avenue.” And a similar situation would be destined for Kings Avenue, as well.

Kings avenue

It was a similar situation in Kings Avenue.

“Somebody should be held to task in terms of evaluating where the tram goes. Sure the trees may have to go but don’t blame it on the death of the trees, blame it on the fact that you need more room,” he said.

He said the Government had been flippant and uncaring when it came to the fate of significantly historical trees in the Parliamentary Triangle, saying it was not clear what kind of trees would be planted or how it would be done.

“The character of the area will change,” he said.

Mr Easthope said there had also been a lack of thought into the consequences of running the tram through Barton.

“They haven’t thought out the actual urban outcome, haven’t thought out how they’re going to plant trees, or what they’re going to do when it goes past Old Parliament House. Maybe they have but they’re not telling us, not giving us the full rationale about tree removal,” he said.

He understood the Stage 2 preferred route came down to viability and cost-benefits, and that it was good for tourists in that area but ‘how do you do it sensibly?’.

Mr Easthope said the tree plantings on the Northbourne median, which is twice as wide as the Commonwealth one, were designed to accommodate a tram down the middle, but they had all been removed to make way for light rail, with new plantings of contentious brittle gum replacing them.

“As the name suggests, probably not a very sensible solution,” he said.

“Can you imagine trying to do that sort of thing down Commonwealth Avenue, with a median half the size?”


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68 Responses to Light rail: Government accused of misleading public on Stage 2 tree removals
Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:34 am 07 Aug 18

According to the report the trees should have died by 1960. Fifty eight years on they look just as healthy and beautiful as they did when I moved to Canberra 35 years ago.

If anyone is willing to start a “Save the Cedars” campaign I am will to get aboard.

Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 12:46 pm 07 Aug 18

We have to keep the trees! Don't let this government fool you!

    Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 5:56 pm 07 Aug 18

    better than the grassland that there was. I assume you like concrete?

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 6:49 pm 07 Aug 18

    Peter Brassington you should move to Sydney.Your sentiments indicate that you clearly don't get Canberra. You should enjoy Sydney they love cutting heritage trees down.

Geoffrey John Randal Geoffrey John Randal 12:55 pm 07 Aug 18

Well there’s heritage and heritage and all these trees are very recent arrivals in the big scheme of things.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 6:50 pm 07 Aug 18

    Are you kidding me? These are the trees planted before we even had a Parliament House.

Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 12:55 pm 07 Aug 18

Why do people want to hold up infrastructure progress over a few old trees? It's always something in this place: "We can't knock down the Dickson flats, they're historic" Give me a break........Plant 10 new trees somewhere for every one cut down. Young trees are a better carbon sink anyway.

    Mat Barber Mat Barber 1:31 pm 07 Aug 18

    Then vote in the liberals instead and spend the next four years whinging about them not doing anything whilst they try to get the budget in the black

    Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 1:41 pm 07 Aug 18

    Old trees are better carbon sinks than young ones (Gardening Australia program recently).

    Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 1:49 pm 07 Aug 18

    Trish Roberts Hmmm, that seems to be a recent development. Regardless, we're not talking about an old groth forest here........ and part of the plan can be to replace more that we take.

    We can't continually hold up all progress because of the 'feels'.

    Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 2:06 pm 07 Aug 18

    Warwick Alsop how old does old growth forest have to be? Have you any idea when those trees were planted. If everything gave way to what is euphemistically called progress there would be no beauty left. Accept that Barr and his team are blind with no taste

    Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 2:23 pm 07 Aug 18

    For it to be an old growth forest it needs to be a forest, not a few trees along a corridor.

    Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 2:56 pm 07 Aug 18

    Warwick Alsop they still contribute to the beauty of the city and reduce urban warming and why does it have to be a forest. Go to some towns and see beautiful gardens and tree lined avenues of old trees. They're being kept and not knocked down

    Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 10:46 pm 07 Aug 18

    Depends on your definition of progress I guess. Some of us think turning the city centre into another soulless concrete jungle, isn’t progress. But, to each their own.

Mike Long Mike Long 1:04 pm 07 Aug 18

Perhaps Parliament house needs removing....it's in decline

@watson @watson 1:46 pm 07 Aug 18

Didn’t the NCA run a consultation on this last year where they said they could get the extra space they needed by trimming lane widths?

    JC JC 7:32 pm 08 Aug 18

    Yup and of course the NCA are not the ACT government and have been known to have a difference of opinion or too. And of course it is the NCA peddling the bigger change that has been mooted for commonwealth Ave. Do what they propose and people will be wishing for light rail.

Roc Cecere Roc Cecere 2:48 pm 07 Aug 18

Haahaha, this place is a joke

Vanessa Mackay Vanessa Mackay 5:21 pm 07 Aug 18

Every time I drive on Northbourne, I am saddened by the loss of the gums.

    Stuart Hume Stuart Hume 8:08 pm 07 Aug 18

    You do know they are replanting more trees than the sick ones they removed right?

    Vanessa Mackay Vanessa Mackay 8:10 pm 07 Aug 18

    Stuart Hume It will take ages for them to grow...

    Stuart Hume Stuart Hume 8:19 pm 07 Aug 18

    They have been growing them for years already at Yarralumla nursery. The trees along Northbourne get replaced about every 30 years so they would have been removed and replaced even if the light rail hadn’t happened.

    Stuart Hume Stuart Hume 8:25 pm 07 Aug 18

    There’s a good write up here. The trees are already 5m tall when planted and will reach 15-20m https://www.canberratimes.com.au/politics/act/why-northbourne-avenue-s-new-trees-won-t-fall-over-20180427-p4zc4z.html

    Vanessa Mackay Vanessa Mackay 8:33 pm 07 Aug 18

    Stuart Hume Thank you for sharing that.

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 11:44 am 08 Aug 18

    Vanessa Mackay

    They’re still sick and not getting better

Kevin Read Kevin Read 5:50 pm 07 Aug 18

It's not so much about the trees, it's the way politicians from all sides think they can feed the public some BS and just get away with it.

Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 5:56 pm 07 Aug 18

http://citynews.com.au/2018/opinion-clearing-heritage-trees-for-trams-is-appalling/

Jai Darling Jai Darling 6:03 pm 07 Aug 18

The nature strips that exist practically everywhere in this city are part of what makes Canberra unique and quite beautiful. Getting rid of such areas would be an incredibly bad idea.

Paula Barnett Paula Barnett 6:12 pm 07 Aug 18

Keep the trees and get rid of the politicians .

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 6:28 pm 07 Aug 18

Because they are in the way. End of.

Wing Nut Wing Nut 7:18 pm 07 Aug 18

I’d also be asking what’s the true cost of Stage One and when will it be completed. From what I hear, it’s nothing like the Government’s line. ACT ICAC’s going to be very busy.

    JC JC 11:17 pm 08 Aug 18

    Do enlighten us?

    Jim9 Jim9 11:05 am 09 Aug 18

    But does it matter Wing Nut? It will only matter if the Government forks the bill for the additional cost for stage 1, above what is agreed in the PPP contract.

    The whole point of a PPP approach, in part, is to put a greater proportion of the risk associated with capital development onto the private provider. There are no doubt contract terms that allow for some additional costs incurred to be passed on by the contractor, but for many common cost overruns, it would be the contractor that would ultimately wear them, not the Government.

Stuart Hume Stuart Hume 8:17 pm 07 Aug 18

I wouldn’t worry too much about this guy’s opinion on Stage 2 given he can’t even gets facts about Stage 1 right. He obviously hasn’t even bothered to read up on the brittle gum trees being replanted in Northbourne that are called brittle because they aren’t good for timber but are good for street plantings and are very drought and frost resistant. https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp7/eucalyptus-mannifera.html

Robert McMahon Robert McMahon 8:32 pm 07 Aug 18

Like they claimed that *all* the original remaining gums on Northbourne Avenue had been damaged by that bad storm; funny how they survived all other storms over decades. This is just a scandal.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:05 pm 07 Aug 18

Just as with Northbourne Avenue, trees which, in truth, are far healthier, structurally sound and eye-pleasing than many of the suburban trees which this government refuses to remove/replace will be eliminated.

The conveniently glib words about trees “in decline” would be so much easier to swallow if this sole, simple, all-embracing criterion was applied across the board to decisions about all trees in urban Canberra.

    JC JC 7:35 pm 08 Aug 18

    The trees that are not as old as people make out too. Just depends your overall view on Northborne. Bet if the plan was to remove them to create a 8 or 10 lane road many would utter a peep and say hey we still have plenty of trees down the outside.

Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 7:54 am 08 Aug 18

They have had it in for the trees around that area for years. What they stand in the way of is development. Our city is getting uglier by the day. Gums down Northbourne? Why in this day and age would you plant such dangerous messy trees in an area flagged to become more populous? Should have planted a more suitable tree (I know some have been suggested) or nothing at all. And the heritage trees on Commonwealth Ave should NOT be touched. Find a way around them if you must. But before that, ensure the tram is a roaring success. I have my doubts.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 8:16 am 08 Aug 18

    Eucalyptus are hardwood, but I'm guessing you meant exotic deciduous type hardwood trees.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:41 am 08 Aug 18

Why they didn’t consider and adopt the magnificent native fast growing locally popular
Grevellia Robusta.https://www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au/living-collection/trees/tree-descriptions/forests-and-trees/forest-51 is beyond me.

It ticks all the boxes and has the most beautiful flower which could be the redeeming highlight of the concrete canyon Northbourne Avenue is about to become.

    JC JC 7:30 pm 08 Aug 18

    Actually kind of agree that some more variety could be in order. As for the concrete canyon I reckon that it is already starting to soften up with the trees they have already planted and Flemington road in particular where they have mulched and planted “grasses” is looking pretty decent too. Far better a vista on Flemmington before where all you could see were streetlights. Now yes the overhead is there but it is no where near as noticeable as those lights and the lights are no longer as noticeable too. All because of some trees and landscaping.

    Now if only some of our other roads and yes looking at the Madura parkway could be better landscapes. The median landscaping on NSW roads like the Federal Highway and Hume make it far easy to drive on those roads compared to Majura Parkway.

Wing Nut Wing Nut 5:58 pm 08 Aug 18

Got our rates notice, up $800 for a townhouse in Palmerston. $800 towards Barr’s ego stroking projects. No vote for you Meegan.

    JC JC 11:16 pm 08 Aug 18

    Think you will find the bulk of the $800 rise is paying for policies that they have taken to a couple of elections now rather than light rail which is less than 1% of government costs.

    gooterz gooterz 11:14 pm 09 Aug 18

    I think you’ll find that if you take out GST income that percentage becomes a big part of discretionary funding.

    You just can’t not fund schools, hospitals, police and fire trucks..

    However you have the choice of BRT and lightly railed

    JC JC 11:22 am 10 Aug 18

    Income is income. Weather it is rates, GST or charges it can be spent on anything. Only time is when it is a grant to spend on something in particular.

    Fact is light rail is less than 1% of the total budget. Compared to about 25% for health and 25% for education.

    chewy14 chewy14 2:56 pm 10 Aug 18

    This 1% statistic is meaningless without looking at the whole budget and where revenue and spending goes.

    As you’ve identified, health and education are massive expenditures and can’t easily be changed. The vast majority of spending is inflexible and can’t easily be cut.

    Revenue is similar, the GST and federal government grants make up a large proportion of income. Other taxes can’t easily be raised without negative economic effects.

    The entire transport budget for the whole of Canberra is less than 5% of the budget.

    So to put your “it’s only 1%” in perspective, that’s 1% of the budget for the first of multiple stages of a project, which only services a small proportion of the population. 1% of an inflexible budget that can’t easily be shifted to cut costs or raise additional revenue.

    Your own figures show what a huge impost light rail is and is going to be into the future.

    JC JC 11:01 pm 12 Aug 18

    And what is the cost of NOT doing something? And what is the increased revenues from the urban regeneration of Northborne.

    So yeah it all makes a difference but to just bury ones head in the sand and do more of the same doesn’t help the future.

    Not saying and have never said light rail is the magic panacea but it is something that even at 1% of today’s budget and should I point out over time that 1% (but yes it is just for stage one) will drop as a percentage of income.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:57 am 13 Aug 18

    Can’t see where anyone has ever suggested doing nothing, that’s a massive strawman but since you bring up opportunity costs, what are the costs of choosing light rail over the far cheaper alternatives that give the same transport benefits?

    What is the opportunity cost of some proper long term planning that could have delivered light rail when it was actually justified from a density perspective in 20-30 years time?

    The increased revenues from the regeneration of Northbourne could still have been achieved without light rail. But if the government was so keen on light rail as the only possible solution due to their political deals, why didn’t they actually capture some of the value uplift of land through a direct levy?

    Keep clinging to that “1%”, it’s clearly a massive impost that we’ll all be paying for years.

    gooterz gooterz 8:18 pm 10 Aug 18

    Heath and education apply to 100% of canberra light rail does not
    If light rail increases to a full network the cost is 10% of budget. Thats huge.

    Spending 2 fifths of the health budget just getting people from a to b.

    Constructing light rail from civic to woden is about the same cost of running buses there for about 100 years for the same route.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 8:56 pm 10 Aug 18

    You are not correct in this claim JC. ACT Government gets dedicated grants from the Federal government for Health and Education. Also Commonwealth grants for housing and other social programs that are based on population.

    It’s not an honest claim to say that only 1% of Budget is for light rail. You won’t have any chance of taking the empty Auditor General position with your financial sommersaults

    JC JC 11:04 pm 12 Aug 18

    bj it is 100% correct it is right to say it is 1%. As I said where the money comes from and goes is irrelevant at the end of the day even if some does have a fixed use which I freely admidsd.

    Likewise some of light rails cost is being paid by such incomes, assert recycling scheme for example. But that is convientabtly forgotten in the anti hysteria.

    gooterz gooterz 8:11 am 13 Aug 18

    Asset recycling could have been elsewhere but was tiny in comparision to the 10 billion ovarall cost.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:36 am 12 Aug 18

    There have been two elections since the decision was made to introduce the trolley folly.

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