AS fast as Bayswater council can plant new trees, state government projects and private development just keeps tearing down older growth.
Last planting season the council put in 50,000 tubestock native plants and 1,500 new street trees, in an effort to the goal of 20 per cent tree canopy coverage by 2025.
The canopy plan’s starting point in 2014 was 13.2 per cent coverage. The last big review in November 2020 showed they had gone backwards and now had just 10.2 per cent cover and had the greatest spread of “grey growth” in the country, with 60 per cent of the area now pavement, roads and carparks.
A report to councillors this week said the City’s own tree-planting efforts just weren’t replacing greenery as fast as it was being felled, “due to continued loss of canopy on private property and large canopy loss due to key infrastructure projects”.
It didn’t name them, but the big recent ones have been the state-government approved clearing of riverfront blocks for housing, the Tonkin Highway works, and the Bayswater train station upgrades (the trees there are being replaced with more numbers-wise, but they’re small and the canopy will take many years to fill in).
The council was quizzed from all sides about the tree loss at the AGM in March, from Future Bayswater members, business owners, and traditional tree-lovers alike.
Future Bayswater’s Andrew Watt noted it had been two years since an AGM motion called on the council to look at more incentives for property owners to keep trees, including rate differentials for maintaining trees or development bonuses that allow taller, skinnier buildings that leave trees on the block.
The council agreed to investigate which incentives might be effective but the project’s been delayed.
Mr Watt said “sadly, since the time of that motion in 2019, the City of Bayswater was named in the renowned national report by RMIT, the ‘Greener Spaces, Better Places’ as being the worst in the nation of its type and urban local government for lack of tree canopy and also the worst in Australia for the highest increase in grey hard space that creates the urban heat island effect.
“Not exactly the outcome I’m sure that the city would have desired.”
Urban planner and ecophile Greg Smith said “unless you’ve closed your eyes lately you’ll see that the Tonkin Highway and that Gap proposal have cut down so many trees, and of course the town centre upgrade to do with the train has cut down so many trees, that they will have an impact on Bayswater’s canopy percentage. But even I wouldn’t blame the City of Bayswater totally for that, because I don’t think it has much say in it.”
But he did think the council should be stricter in enforcing its rules requiring one tree per four bays in commercial developments, and he’s been campaigning for them to do more to protect trees on private blocks.
The council’s currently working on a draft “significant tree register” to preserve notable trees, coming to a future council meeting. Mr Smith reckons blanket protection for trees above an established height is a better way to go than the dob-in-a-big-tree approach.
Bayswater’s also started working with the Urban Design Research Council on rejigging its approach to hit that 20 per cent canopy target.
by DAVID BELL