The landmark but ailing poplars in front of the National Library of Australia will soon be replaced by English oaks in a proposed facelift for the building’s Forecourt.
The National Capital Authority has lodged a Works Application to remove the 38 Lombardy Poplars (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) and replace them with 28 Fastigiate English Oak trees (Quecrus robur ‘Fastigiata’), judged to be a species that will closely resemble the poplars in shape, size and leaf colour, replicate their heritage character, and are proven to grow well in the Canberra climate.
The NCA had wanted to plant new poplars to replace the trees, most of which are in very poor condition and can’t be saved, but the species is a declared pest in the ACT.
The original design included four rows of 11 trees, but several have been removed in recent years because they have died or became unsafe.
The NCA proposes to reduce the number of trees in each of the four rows to seven because the poplars have been competing with each other, and their close spacing has contributed to their decline and damage from maintenance equipment.
“A reduced number of trees in each of the four rows will ensure they grow to maturity quicker and will compete with each other less while retaining the strong symmetrical lines of trees on either side of the NLA Forecourt,” the NCA says.
But the change will impact the Forecourt’s heritage values and have consequences for the Parliament House Vista and the Parliamentary Zone, where other poplars are planted.
The Heritage Impact Assessment says there will be severe/high or moderate impacts on the existing forecourt because certain values are tied to the use of poplars as a species, and the replacement species do not fully achieve the desired qualities of poplars.
It acknowledges the selection of the oaks as a comparable species but says the forecourt plantings are a prominent element in the vista landscape, and the choice of poplars was linked to the wider use of poplars in the landscape.
“The proposed replacement plantings are a highly significant issue for the Parliamentary Zone and Parliament House Vista as they set a precedent for the future of important poplar plantings in these areas,” the HIA says.
As recommended, the project was referred under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment gave its approval for the project in June.
The NCA also wants to use the project to replace the topsoil and irrigation system and install a drainage system for the new trees.
A soil assessment in 2018 found the topsoil was very shallow and not suitable for the growing of high-quality trees and turf, which will also be replaced.
The NCA says this will mean the site will be better presented for many decades to come.
Public feedback on this application closes at 5:00 pm on Friday, 17 September.