AFTER briefly experimenting with giving residents a say on whether they want a verge tree, Bayswater council is set to drop its opt-in system.
Until late last year verge trees went in by default, one outside every residence, and anyone not wanting one would have to plead their case to the council and hope for an exemption.
After October 2021’s election the new lineup on council changed the rules to give residents more of a say about what happened on their verges, and they now only plant a verge tree if the resident responds to the flyer and consents.
They’d hoped to plant 3000 trees this season and spent $21,400 sending out flyers hoping to convince residents to consent.
A report put to councillors last week said only 20 per cent of people replied affirmatively, making for a lot of patchy sunbaked verges (Voice, May 21, 2022). Most people just never wrote back.
Councillor Dan Bull, who’d opposed the opt-in system, moved to revert to the old mandatory regime, with homeowners simply being informed if they were getting a new verge tree.
“I think we would all agree that this report confirms that the amendments that were made to the urban tree policy is an abject failure.
“The fact that… the city has only managed to replace 20 per cent of dead verge trees as opposed to the previous year’s 83 per cent is a real disappointment… we are in a climate crisis and we have an Urban Forest Strategy and we have targets, and to receive the report confirming this [trees not being replaced] is utterly, utterly disappointing.”
Cr Petersen-Pik urged a quick policy reverse in time for planting during the current cool weather, the prime planting season to give them the best chance to survive.
He pointed out the change was made suddenly and a quick change back was justified.
Cr Petersen-Pik said only being able to replace 20 per cent of trees that died had a huge impact:
“We have children walking to school without shade now. We’ve had trees that were removed for different reasons – some of them died and some of them had disease – and the city’s not able to plant new ones.”
At least 132 Baysy verge trees died this financial year, from being sunbaked, too thirsty, age, or damage from development. Cr Petersen-Pik also moved that they pursue any potential measures to keep current trees safe from those factors.
He was supported by the same councillors who’d opposed the opt-in system in the first place; Cr Bull, Lorna Clarke, Giorgia Johnson and Sally Palmer.
But the majority of councillors wanted to think it over and voted against reverting to the old system on the advice of acting CEO Cliff Frewing, who said the council’s overall tree policy was already working its way through their usual policy change process.
The council’s policy review committee met on May 31 and recommended a middle ground between the current opt-in policy and the old stern policy where everyone got a tree unless they lodged an objection on the hope the council’s director would grant clemency.
Under the mid-ground proposal they’d sent out letters and then plant the tree “unless requested otherwise by the adjacent property owner”.
The recommendation is due back at full council for a vote at the June meeting.
by DAVID BELL