Tree Society Submission (20 May 2016) on the Whitehorse Tree Study: Draft Options Report
A summary of the Tree Society’s submission follows:
The consultants commissioned by Whitehorse Council for this Study, Planisphere, deserve the plaudits of the Whitehorse community for developing this intellectually rigorous Options Paper that completes a Gap Analysis, identifies the deficiencies of the existing tree and vegetation safeguards, develops a list of options to address these deficiencies, and ultimately makes a recommendation to extend the Significant Landscape Overlays (SLO) city-wide, an option that the Tree Society endorses.
The Option recommended calls for the extension of the SLO throughout Whitehorse as well as:
- Amending the Whitehorse Planning Scheme in favour of tree and vegetation preservation, retention and replacement in the face of the many pressures that, up to now, have resulted in the net loss of tree canopy within the city
- Lobbying the state government to increase the fines for the illegal removal and/or damage to trees in Whitehorse
- Committing up front and recurrent funding to administer the city-wide extension of the SLO
- Providing ongoing funding and support for a Tree Education Program
- Offering incentives for residents and developers to purchase and plant canopy trees
- Employing planning staff with the necessary expertise to be able to assess the quality of landscape plans that are submitted for review
- Stipulating the appropriate levels of administration and enforcement of S173 agreements for new subdivisions.
With the recommended ‘Extend the SLO’ Option, the deficiencies in the Whitehorse Planning Scheme have largely been addressed with particular reference to:
- Providing uniform tree protection across the city
- Including a definition of, and scientific explanation for, the crucial tree protection zone (TPZ)
- Describing what constitutes a ‘canopy’ tree and the different sub-types
- Emphasizing the importance of the planting of replacement trees
- Recognizing the need to engage qualified and experienced planning staff to review landscape plans
- Ensuring sufficient space is allowed for canopy tree plantings in development proposals
- Facilitating the ongoing monitoring of the health and correct maintenance practices for newly planted trees and replacement trees (short, medium, and long-term).
However the final ‘gap’ as stated on page 24 is a curious addition and requires further explanation i.e.:
‘… Weed species and exempting weeds that add value to the Whitehorse character and overall tree canopy cover …’
Furthermore the Tree Society questions the validity of the statement on page 30 of the document i.e.:
‘… It is important to understand that while promoting the increased planting of weed species is not desirable, these species rarely endanger the landscape environmental qualities in urban areas …’ (Bold = Tree Society emphasis). Our experience is very much to the contrary particularly for environmental weeds in proximity to bushland parks and/or those woody weeds whose seeds are dispersed long distances by, for example, birds or the wind.
In relation to the resource implications for the recommended ‘Extend the SLO’ Option in the Draft Options paper, the Tree Society contends that a financial outlay of $30,000 to amend the Planning Scheme, $16,000 for one-off capital costs and ~$650,000 pa for increases in staffing to administer the expanded SLO is a bargain when compared with other capital-heavy infrastructure works planned or already completed by Whitehorse Council. Indeed these figures represent ‘loose change’ in relation to what will be achieved i.e. the protection and enhancement of the city’s natural assets held in private ownership. As such the cost implications for the ‘Extend the SLO’ Option will be a wise and farsighted investment.
The city’s natural assets are what define Whitehorse and as such they should be afforded a monetary 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. The Tree Society contends that the use of Whitehorse Council’s Amenity Tree Valuation Tool needs to be promoted widely to developers and residents such that they become familiar with what constitutes the real value of our trees in dollar terms. Using this tool the tree values for ‘average’ trees are in the order of thousands of dollars through to 10s of thousands of dollars for good specimens and up to 6-figure values for outstanding tree specimens within the city. Older trees also have enhanced dollar values due to the range of habitats they provide for native fauna (e.g. hollows for nesting birds).
In conclusion the Tree Society commends the preferred ‘Extend the SLO’ Option recommendation as detailed in the Whitehorse Tree study – Draft Options Report to Whitehorse Council.
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