Tree Huggers

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I didn’t vote on the off-the-cuff motion to remove or retain the tree for a couple of reasons.

Most importantly, I don’t believe it is a decision for the councillors to make at this time. We have an approved policy on street trees and reserves management – staff have the delegated authority to make most decisions under existing policies and plans. If they choose to not exercise that authority then the decision would come back to Council with an explanation and possibly a recommendation. Councillors received no such communication from staff other than what was in the contracted project manager’s report. The distinct roles of governance and management/operations are important to keep clear and adhere to.

I also did not want to vote on the matter without more information on the options. There was no real urgency to the tree issue as far as I could tell and allowing some time to present the case for removal, for simply trimming back and for retaining as it is, seems like a more useful approach but the haste of the motion and decision unfortunately meant that was not an option.

There is ample provision in existing policies and plans for staff to argue for the retention of any tree, for example: “In considering applications for street tree removal for development purposes, Council will consider the following factors:

– The interests of the public in the maintenance of an aesthetically pleasing environment;

– The desirability of protecting publicly owned trees;

– The value of the tree as a public amenity;

– The historical, cultural or scientific significance (if any) of the trees; and

– The likely effect (if any) of the removal or trimming of the tree on ground stability, the water table, or run-off.

– The alternatives available if the street tree was to remain.”

and:

“Small pockets of native development should be encouraged in areas which have high amenity value to the public and can act as refuge and habitat areas for native wildlife including indigenous bird and insect species. Areas in which such practices have been commenced include the riverbank area of the Botanical Gardens, Kelvin Park, the Marina Reserve and the Riverbank Walkway.”

If this tree falls under reserves policy, there are similar considerations that staff will take into account.

As it stands, the Mayor only needs one third of councillors to sign a notice of motion to test the decision made in haste and with some proper staff advice on the matter and enough public outcry, it may go his way the second time.

I find interesting some of the issues our citizens and councillors get most passionate about and look forward to seeing how this one plays out. I hope similar levels of enthusiasm and energy will be dedicated to some other pressing matters as well.

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