Letter to Council re Tree and Vegetation Controls

January 2015

Dear Whitehorse Councillor

Re: Tree and Vegetation Controls for Whitehorse

Whitehorse City Council is to be applauded for considering the introduction of citywide tree and vegetation protection controls (Whitehorse Leader 15th December 2014).

The credit for this initiative goes to Cr Daw for putting a Motion to council late last year calling for whole-of-Whitehorse tree and vegetation controls in addition to the licensing of tree loppers and increasing the fines for unauthorised tree removal.

A council officer report to council’s December meeting estimated that the cost of introducing and managing the vegetation controls citywide would be around $600,000 per year.

This figure must be placed in context.

Whitehorse ratepayers provided council with $94M in the 2014-15 Budget, a 5% (i.e.~$5M) increase on the 2013-14 Budget.

The estimated cost of citywide vegetation controls at $600K seems a small price to pay for an immediate and ongoing improvement in the natural assets of the city and the quality of life for Whitehorse citizens.

This figure is modest when compared with the budgeted costs for many projects in the 2014-15 budget papers including:

  • The city’s 20th anniversary celebrations were held in November 2014 at a budgeted cost of $143K – see page 13
  • Refurbishment of the Surrey Park Swim Clubrooms, the Kalang Park and Mont Albert Reserve pavilions (budgeted cost of $2.45M for the three projects) – see page 17 of the budget papers
  • Playground upgrades ($820K) – page 39
  • Sports Ground Renewal Program ($460K) – page 39
  • Box Hill Gardens management plan implementation ($452K) – page 19
  • In addition Council has spent over $40 million on the refurbishment of Aqualink Box Hill over recent years and has budgeted to spend a further $450K in the 2014-15 budget (see pages 99 and 107) as well as $200K for works at the Nunawading Aquatic Centre (see pages 99 and 104 of the budget papers).

The projects listed above are all worthy of receiving ratepayer funding, however the tree society contends that a $600K annual spend on protecting and enhancing the city’s natural assets held in private ownership by means of citywide tree and vegetation protection controls is a wise investment.

Why is there no mention of the value (or even an inventory) of the city’s natural assets including trees and other vegetation within the Budget papers – both in private or public ownership? All! other council/community assets are listed, valued and managed e.g. community buildings and facilities, roads and drainage infrastructure. The city’s natural assets are what defines Whitehorse and as such they should be afforded a $ value and factored into council’s assets inventory. A great deal of research has resulted in simple and effective tree evaluation methods, including that of a tree’s monetary value. One such valuation is via the modified Burnley Tree Evaluation method, which values a healthy 6F10 metre high amenity tree (e.g. a Blackwood – Acacia melonoxylon) in the $10-20,000 range. This $ value doesn’t account for the habitat value, shade and cooling characteristics, oxygen production, CO2 uptake or carbon storage capabilities of the tree which should add more ‘economic value’ to the tree.

The proposed tree controls will prohibit the indiscriminate and widespread practice of tree and vegetation removal from private properties, including the current, wholesale ‘moonscaping’ or complete clearing of residential development sites throughout the city. This blight on the city’s natural amenity has accelerated over recent years and, unless stopped by regulation and education will threaten the ‘green and leafy’ status of Whitehorse and the quality of life for every resident.

Trees (and all types of vegetation, indigenous or otherwise) have long been appreciated for their aesthetic, environmental and habitat values. They also provide shading, decrease cooling costs, protect infrastructure (e.g. buildings, roads and paths), absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and store carbon so they play an important role in helping address global warming.

There has been a rapid decline of canopy trees in non-Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO) areas (and even within SLO precincts) of Whitehorse over the past 5 years in the name of residential infill development. A bleak future is guaranteed if global warming continues as predicted with trees and vegetation crucial in mitigating climate change. We need more trees not less and it’s time for council to take the decision to place vegetation controls over the entire city as soon as possible.

It will be argued by some that the implementation of citywide vegetation controls will erode the individual rights of landowners to make decisions about trees and vegetation on their properties. The tree society believes that suburbs that have had tree controls for years (e.g. Blackburn, Mitcham and Vermont) have benefited greatly and now have much better natural landscape character compared with other suburbs. There has been widespread acceptance of tree and vegetation controls by residents of these suburbs.

Properly constituted and administered tree and vegetation protection controls, along with relevant resident education programs (such as the council initiative to employ a Tree Education Officer in the Planning Department) will not only reverse the decline of tree numbers in ‘green & leafy’ Whitehorse but will enhance the natural amenity of the city, the results of which will become obvious in a few short years.
The tree society committee and member urge all councillors to support recurrent funding for the extension of tree and vegetation controls throughout Whitehorse.

Yours sincerely

David Berry

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