Speech

Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Protecting Significant Trees

August 9th, 2017

On the 9th of August 2017, Mark introduced a Greens Private Members Bill - Planning Development and Infrastructure (Regulated Trees) Amendment Bill 2017.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: This is a simple Bill that seeks to bring some common sense to the law around Significant Trees in South Australia.

Our State has had laws to protect large trees for many years, however these laws aren’t working as well as they could.

The impetus for this Bill was the situation at Glenside Hospital, where an application was made to remove 83 Significant and Regulated Trees.  Normally, these matters only involve one or two trees, so this application was a big one.  The situation at Glenside was that the debate in the community and in the Parliament over whether it should remain a mental health facility or be zoned for other purposes was had and resolved 8 or so years ago.  The land was re-zoned for a range of purposes including housing.  It has been rezoned since, but it is still zoned for housing.

The Government negotiated to sell the land to private developers who would be encouraged to develop the site for housing. However, before the land had changed hands and before any firm plans for housing were submitted, the developer went along to the DAC and sought permission to remove the 83 trees.  In fact there were hundreds more trees that were to be removed, but they were smaller and didn’t require planning permission to remove.
The developer’s argument was that the land would ultimately be developed for housing and that the trees were in the way and would need to be removed.

But this is where it gets interesting.  The developer hadn’t yet submitted any plans for housing and had no approval to build houses.  Building apartments was certainly what the Government wanted to happen, but there was no certainty because there was no application lodged.  Apartments might be built some time in the future, but not now.  The developer just wanted the trees removed.  In addition, there were some dodgy claims about land contamination and the argument was put that the trees had to go in order to clean up the site. However that’s a circular argument as well.  There is no need to remove soil from the site unless a new development is proposed and no such development has been approved.

Quite reasonably, some of the local people including residents and other businesses on the Glenside site said that it was premature to remove the trees until we knew exactly what was to be built in their place.  Most people realised that many or even most of the trees would probably need to go, but which ones?  Until you have an approval, you can’t tell which trees might have been spared.

If you fast forward to today, most of the trees have now gone and there is still no approval for the apartment blocks and town houses that are to go in their place.  Whilst it might seem unlikely, perhaps nothing will happen on the site in the foreseeable future.  Think about the old Le Cornu site in North Adelaide.  It has been re-zoned and had multiple development approvals over the years, but still nothing has happened.  Is that the fate we want for places like Glenside?  If the bottom were to fall out of the apartment market or some other economic calamity were to befall the project or the developer, then we could end up with a situation where the trees were removed either completely unnecessarily or at best, significantly prematurely.

Which brings me to my Bill.  The operative provision is that a significant or regulated tree removal application cannot be granted UNLESS the replacement use or buildings have also been approved.  It’s that simple.  No more clearing of significant trees and then worrying about what to replace them with later.  The two decisions must be dealt with together or the tree decision must be made after the building decision, not before.  The current situation is very poor planning practice and it brings the system into disrepute.

Of course there is one clear exception that we need to consider, and that is in situations where the tree needs to be removed because it is dangerous.  We know that as trees get older they can shed branches and become unstable and that they may need to be removed to protect public safety or to protect buildings.  In those situations, then of course an approval can be given, because it isn’t a case of the tree being in the way, it’s a case of the tree being dangerous.

I commend the Bill to the Council.

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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