Legislative Council

GREENS MOTION: Protection of Significant Trees

February 15th, 2017

On the 15th of February 2017, Mark moved a motion to protect significant and regulated trees at the Glenside Hospital site, to note the 1,100-strong petition to save the Glenside Hospital trees and to acknowledge the importance of significant trees in South Australia's urban environment.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I move:

That this Council— 

1.  Notes the importance of significant trees to our urban environment and amenity;

2.  Notes that over 1,100 South Australian citizens have signed a petition calling on the state government to change the law to prevent the unnecessary destruction of significant trees and force property developers to incorporate important vegetation into their projects for the benefit of the environment and the wider community; and 

3.  Calls on the state government to take action now to protect more of the significant and regulated trees on the former Glenside Hospital site.

I put this motion on the Notice Paper today because it is crunch time for the trees on the former Glenside Hospital site. As members may be aware, the government has chosen Cedar Woods as the preferred developer for the former Glenside Hospital site and its intention is to build 1,000 homes on that site. In order to build those homes they have applied to the Development Assessment Commission to remove 83 significant and/or regulated trees. Members would recall that significant trees are the largest of trees, with a circumference of three metres or more, and regulated trees are still very large but slightly smaller, with a circumference of two metres.

This application will be heard by the Development Assessment Commission at 9.30 next Thursday morning. The local community has been campaigning hard for a number of months now to try to reduce the carnage that those trees are facing. Their campaign is a sound one and it is based on common sense. Let me say at the outset, the decision to sell Glenside and to transform it from a hospital site to a private development site, was effectively made many years ago. Certainly the Greens, and most members of the community, realise that that battle has been lost. There will be redevelopment on the Glenside site.

The questions that remain are: what type of development, how intensive will that development be, how high will the buildings be and, most importantly, how many trees need to be removed to facilitate that development? This is where our planning system is brought into disrepute in the way it is currently being handled. The reason I say that is because, whilst the land is zoned as suitable for housing, we do not yet know what housing is proposed. The reason we do not know that is because Cedar Woods has not yet lodged a development application to build any homes. They have not lodged any application to build apartments or townhouses or anything.

The only application that they have lodged is to remove 83 trees and to demolish certain non-heritage buildings that stand in the way of some future development. No-one is objecting to the removal of the old buildings; people accept that they are going to go. But, why on earth, is it appropriate to approve the destruction of these 83 trees before any application to replace them with apartments has even been lodged?

Like I say, the community groups that have been campaigning to save the Glenside trees, recognise that there will be development, but unless we know exactly what is proposed in terms of the location, the siting of apartments and townhouses, we do not know whether the developer's application to remove 83 trees is reasonable or not. We also do not know whether there is any compromise that would be possible. In other words, it may well be that once we have the plans for the apartments, it might be possible to, figuratively speaking, pick up an apartment block and move it a few metres one way or the other, and thereby save some of these significant trees. We do not know that because we do not yet have the development application.

I have put this on the agenda because it is important that this council expresses its concern about how these matters are handled. I will certainly be putting to the Development Assessment Commission, on behalf of the residents next Thursday, that it is both premature and unnecessary to be allowing the removal of 83 trees, particularly, as I say, when we do not know where the apartments are going and also because the developers themselves admit that it is an eight to 10-year project and so they will not be building on the whole of this site for possibly up to a decade, so why on earth would you approve the removal of the trees now?

I understand that the developer has said that they promise not to remove all the trees straightaway, to only remove them as necessary, which, as they say, could take eight to 10 years. The point is, though, that under the Development Act, if you have a development approval, you are legally obliged to start work within one year and you are legally obliged to complete it within three years. So, it is one thing for the developer to say, 'Oh yeah, we will just get our approval and we will sit on it for a decade.' No, they will be legally obliged to substantially complete the clearance work within 10 years.

The motion before the council, first of all, invites us to note the importance of significant trees. We have debated significant trees here in the past, but I can tell you that out in the community they are valued, and communities are distressed at how easy it seems to be to destroy significant trees. There are some fantastic videos online now, and I know people are often nervous about drone technology, but I can tell you, seeing the drones flying around Unley and filming some of those magnificent, centuries old river red gums that are now being surrounded and threatened by development, it really does put into perspective how important these trees are.

The Greens established a petition online some time ago, and I am very pleased that 1,100 South Australians have seen fit to sign that petition. The petition calls on the state government to change the law to prevent the unnecessary destruction of significant trees and also to force property developers to incorporate more remnant important vegetation into their projects. I am not talking about putting a glass roof over a tree in a shopping centre in Burnside (that ended in tears), but you can incorporate more vegetation.

Most importantly, this motion calls on the state government to take action now to protect more of the significant and regulated trees on the former Glenside Hospital site. The way that would happen is that the government holds the whip hand and the government needs to negotiate with Cedar Woods and encourage them not to proceed with their tree removal application until they have finalised their plans for the apartments that are to replace them. With those brief words, I commend the motion to the council.

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