Mount Colah & Asquith tree losses

Alexi Boyd with the mysterious earmarked trees in Asquith Oval
Alexi Boyd with the mysterious earmarked trees in Asquith Oval
Jenny Barlass

Council needs to do more, say residents

Residents of Mt Colah and Asquith are up in arms about the relentless loss of tree canopy in their area from ongoing developments.

They’re pressurizing Hornsby Council to act to save further tree loss and remediate spots where trees have come down, and make developers more accountable. They also want to see easier ways to access tree information in development applications.

Of concern are sites at Asquith Rise in Lords Avenue, plus 443 Pacific Highway and in and around Asquith Oval – all shown to the Monthly Chronicle on a local tour to show the litany of tree loss.

What Mount Colah residents are concerned about in Asquith Rise is trees removed which appeared not to be in the DA. “When residents take the time to enquire and raise concerns even in writing about specific properties, we’re directed to the council website – a long list of dozens of documents which we would have no hope of comprehending,” says infuriated Mt Colah resident of seven years, Alexi Boyd.

“An example is Asquith Rise where three landscaping reports show one tree to be retained on the property but after numerous enquiries including some by the Monthly Chronicle,  I was told by compliance that no trees are to be retained.

“Don’t direct us to the website, ask us to read and understand these reports and then tell us it’s been updated with information we can’t find. Put simply, all the trees on this property are gone.”

A combination of no coherent policy by the council, developers overstepping the mark and inadequate state government legislation to keep developers in check are all conspiring to create the perfect storm for tree canopy loss of which Asquith and Mt Colah are glaring examples.

And when the issue of tree canopy loss was raised at a recent Friends of Mt Colah meeting they agreed it was of considerable concern to the Mt Colah community.

In the last year alone the shire lost 15,000 trees or 60 hectares of canopy, primarily due to the 10/50 rule which can override tree preservation orders.

“That’s an unsustainable rate and it would eventually leave us with neighbourhoods where the only trees are on public land,” said Mayor Ruddock.

Asquith Rise: all the trees are gone
Asquith Rise: all the trees are gone

Seeing the significant tree loss across the Shire – a three per cent loss in the last 12 months – the Council has moved to strengthen tree protection and re-establish tree canopy loss by commissioning a report on its options, ready in early 2018.

“That report is coming too late for the dozens of developments within a three kilometre radius of my home,” said Alexi Boyd. “We’re living with this daily and it’s devastating to hear the chainsaws each week as our significant trees are lost.”

She said there are existing compliance requirements in place which the council simply needs to uphold and it is failing to do this right now. “It’s very simple: significant trees must be maintained during the application process, replenished tree stock should only be from local, native threatened species, and replanted trees must be maintained for 12 months. The council has the power to uphold all of this but is failing.”

Next to and inside Asquith Oval Council there over a dozen trees circled by bands of red and white striped tape. “Despite 45 minutes on the phone to the Council’s compliance department about these Asquith Oval trees, one in a private back yard bordering the oval at 463 Pacific Highway and a few on public protected land next to the oval, no-one could tell me why they’ve been singled out. I can only assume it’s for something bad as they all look healthy.”

Only repeated digging by this newspaper has finally revealed what this is for. Simon Evans, Certification and Compliance Manager for Hornsby Council said: “The owners of this property are in the process of designing a seniors living development.  

“As part of the design stage they’re undertaking a tree assessment on all the trees that may be affected by the proposal, both on the subject site and on adjoining land. I believe the tape attached to the trees on and around the property is for the purpose of identification and they’re not being marked for removal.”

“But why earmark trees not to be removed?” asks Boyd.

In other instances at a new block on the corner of Amor and Bouvardia Streets, new Brush trees went under watered and died during the spring drought. On a leafy site at 443-445 Pacific Highway, three Red Mahoganys earmarked for removal, were due to be replaced by three Tuckeroos.

“But why aren’t we replenishing from Hornsby native stock like Turpentine rather than a generalised Eastern Australian species?”

When this was put to the council, they did what appeared to be a U-turn: “A landscaping audit that has been requested by your councillors on all the large development sites has identified that the Tukeroos will be replaced with locally indigenous species such as Angophora costata, Angophora floribunda and Eucalyptus resinifera,” said Simon Evans.

In response to the raft of resident concerns, Councillor Nathan Tilbury said Hornsby’s planning department checks how many trees are removed with each DA and that to remediate future losses, developers “may need to pay money into a tree re-planting scheme.

“Some developers plant new trees and they die as they walk away and don’t care for them. I want to see council choosing the species and then take over replanting and watering them until the trees are established, with developers paying council for providing this service as part of the DA.

“The only problem with this is then you’re going onto private land to do this so council is currently looking at the feasibility of this.”

New Labour councillor Janelle McIntosh added: “A ‘report’ on its own is not enough. We need urgent changes to our Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan to ensure that the determined intent of the new Council is enshrined in changes to current policy. We’re all passionate about this – we need to back up this passion with policy change.”

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