Urban forest is becoming myth

SEVEN of the CBD’s grandest gum trees will be removed for two high-rise towers to be built opposite Perth Arena.

Singaporean-based developer Claridges’ plans for a 26-storey block of offices and a 33-storey block of units was approved by Perth’s Development Assessment Panel on February 20, with the three state government appointed experts and Perth commissioner Gaye McMath unanimous in their support.

Perth council’s 2016 Urban Forest Plan is powerless to protect trees on private land – the council skipped the stage intended to give the plan some teeth and instead opted to encourage residents to “micro green” with flowers on their balcony or shopfronts. Provisions for protecting trees on privately-owned land is still several years away.

• Only one of these trees will survive the chainsaw. Photo by David Bell

Tallest

The tallest of the gums stretches nearly seven storeys high, but only one will be retained for the $290m development. Other smaller species will also be felled. 

In a report to the panel the council’s planners lamented the loss of the trees but said they could not stop their felling.

The council’s policies haven’t just failed to protect the trees; another rule on its books calls for new CBD developments to have “nil setback”, making it virtually inevitable that developers have to chop them down.

• Woods Bagot’s design for the old townhouse block at 725 Wellington Street.

That rule can be waived if there’s a good reason, but Perth’s planners cited it as a hindrance to keeping the trees at Claridges’ Wellington Street site.

Apart from the deforestation, Perth’s planners were glowing about the buildings, saying the project would be “instrumental in revitalising of this part of the city centre”.

A pedestrian bridge will link the two towers above a public plaza, which will retain the single remaining gum at its entry near the existing Four Points Sheraton Hotel.

Claridges is an offshoot of Bonvests Holdings, which bought the site in 2018 for $33.5m after all former owners of the existing Eden Park strata units agreed to accept the above-market-value offer. Bonvests also owns the Four Points which will be given an upgrade.

by DAVID BELL

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‘Great cultural value’

A NEIGHBOUR says the eight gum trees are of “great cultural value” and their removal should be run past the city’s traditional owners to gauge their significance.

While praising the towers’ high-quality design, the neighbour said in a submission to the DAP they couldn’t support them because of the tree loss.

“The trees in question are potentially the largest in central Perth by height and canopy extent… [and] are also rare examples of mature endemic flora in a city dominated by exotic European species and therefore are of great cultural value,” the submission read.

The neighbour said the trees’ removal ran counter to the city’s cultural development strategy which promoted native flora and green corridors as one of its six key goals.

The submission said if the ground floor of the front tower was brought back in line with the podium levels the trees could stay without much loss of floor space.

The project’s hired town planner Peter Simpson responded: “While it is acknowledged that it is preferable to retain mature trees, the location of the trees and the size of the development means that any retention would have a significant impact on the built form of the podium and tower above when considering the canopy of the trees. 

“Additionally, the tree root protection is also likely to impact the location of the basements. This would have a significant impact on the project viability and also the design of the proposed development.”

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