- Loss of Tree and Parkland as a Result of the NE Link
- General Comments Concerning Canopy Tree Loss in Whitehorse
- Legislation Relating to Public Health and Wellbeing, Flora and Fauna and Environment Protection
My name is John Young and I have lived in Blackburn North since 1976 and have been a member of the Blackburn and District Tree Preservation Society for at least 25 years.
I have also been involved with various environmental and conservation organisations for many years including the Stop NE Link Alliance; Sustainable Cities - a joint arrangement between the Public Transport Users Association and Friends of the Earth; and the Public Transport Users Association.
I am bitterly opposed to the construction of the disastrous North East Link Freeway and the widening of the Eastern Freeway with the potential loss of at least 24,000 trees and the destruction of public parkland not to mention all of the other environmental and social problems that will eventuate.
I gave an oral presentation and written submission to the North East Link Project Inquiry and Advisory Committee at the Veneto Club in Bulleen on day 2 of the Hearings on 26 July 2019.
I also gave an oral presentation and written submission to the Planning Panels Victoria Inquiry Panel on the Whitehorse Planning Scheme Amendment C219 – Municipal Wide Tree Study on 6 December 2019 at the municipal offices.
I have also provided a written submission with a request to be heard to the current Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Health Effects of Air Pollution in Victoria. My submission focuses on the health effects of air pollution and climate change impact from motor vehicles specifically NE Link and the proposed widening of the Eastern Freeway.
Summary of my Submission
I object to the potential loss of thousands of trees along kilometres of parkland on both sides of the Eastern Freeway essentially between Mitcham and Kew in order to widen the road and move the so- called ‘noise attenuation’ barriers further out. (The noise barriers don’t work now let alone when the mega road will have innumerable lanes added).
I also consider that the potential desecration of the Koonung Creek wetlands at Elgar Park, Mont Albert North and other wetlands to be morally indefensible.
I also strongly object to the proposed placing of Koonung Creek in an underground barrel drain for up to 1.6 kilometres with the loss of the natural watercourse and surrounding parkland. This is something that Melbourne Water stopped doing to suburban creeks thirty plus years ago. (I also understand NELP intends similar destruction for Banyule Creek in the City of Banyule). It shows the contempt the government and NELP have for the natural environment.
What right does the Andrews’ Labour government have to damage the environment in the north eastern suburbs of Melbourne? What right does NELP have to destroy thousands of trees including many canopy trees in our parks?
My view that trees and parkland were valued by governments, both state and local, is clearly incorrect. One has only to see the destruction of the Eastern Golf Course on Doncaster Road; Doncaster with many large mature trees lost for a giant housing development to understand that the profit motive reigns supreme and nothing is off limits. This is a classic example of where state and local planning authorities should have intervened to acquire the land for a readymade public park.
I have always thought that public parkland was considered as protected from infrastructure development by all tiers of government in recognition that scarce parkland once built on was lost forever. Clearly, the Andrews’ Labour government does not hold this view especially in relation to linear parkland through which a watercourse flows. It is the easy option to plough through a creek valley as the government did with the original Eastern Freeway.
The Eastern Freeway between Doncaster Road and Ringwood should never have been constructed. The creek valley should have become a linear forest way and wildlife corridor. It was only through public pressure from environmental groups and informed citizens that the Mullum Mullum tunnels were built otherwise the Yarran Dheran Reserve and adjoining parkland would be covered in a sea of concrete.
I consider that the City of Whitehorse should once again join forces with the other relevant Councils to take legal action against this environmental catastrophe. At the very least the Koonung Creek wetlands in Mont Albert North should not be disturbed and all destroyed trees and parkland should be offset at NELP’s expense in a large Urban Forest with wildlife corridors within the municipality. Trees lost should be quadrupled in number. If this cannot be achieved as a minimum any proposed widening of the Eastern Freeway should be abandoned including the Bulleen spaghetti junction.
Loss of Trees and Parkland as a Result of NE Link
The City of Whitehorse Draft Urban Forest Strategy 2021-2031 is a very comprehensive document, clearly written with an understanding of all of the issues surrounding the protection and preservation of our local natural environment. The Urban Forest Strategy identifies many deficiencies in the measures to protect our trees particularly canopy trees across the municipality.
The document is well set out identifying various objectives and suggestions for control measures and how these may be monitored. The Urban Forest Strategy recognises the importance of trees and parkland including as follows:
Improved health and wellbeing
Cooling and shading in summer
Cleaner air and water
Places to explore, rest, unwind and rejuvenate
The document also recognises the role of trees in carbon sequestration and the mitigation of climate change. It recognises that in light of the impending climate catastrophe tree planting of the Urban Forest must be of species tolerant to worsening conditions of heat and potential drought.
Objective 3: Enhance Biodiversity discusses the need; somewhat ironically in light of the proposed linear destruction along the Eastern Freeway, to establish green corridors.
Of great concern are the comments concerning the gradual loss of trees in the municipality with studies indicating a staggering 10% loss of canopy trees between 2014 to 2018 (page 6). In my view the responsibility for this can be squarely placed in the hands of greedy developers and local residents with subdivisions, ‘moonscaping’ and garden destruction seemingly continuing unabated.
Fortunately, local planning laws have been introduced to attempt to control this destruction with a permit now required to remove larger trees of any species (except defined weed species) over 5m in height with a trunk circumference of 1m or more measured 1m above ground level (Planning Scheme Significant Landscape Overlay 9).
Any attempt at watering down by state Planning Minister Wynne must be avoided as implied on page 16 of the Strategy. After all, Planning Minister Wynne has already demonstrated his environmental ‘empathy’ by the virtual complete rejection of the NE Link EES Inquiry Panel recommendations to negate or modify the proposed destruction of large swathes of Melbourne’s north eastern suburbs parklands. (I did write to Mr Wynne thanking him for his original approval of the SLO9 draft from Council).
It is pleasing to note that the Urban Forest Strategy sets out targets to increase tree canopy to 27% by 2031 and 30% by 2050 (page 17). A footnote states that by 2031 this represents an overall increase of 9% total tree canopy cover (for trees taller than 3m).
These targets are admirable however the obvious question is, how will the intended destruction along the Eastern Freeway affect these targets? Conversely, an easy way to help achieve these targets is to prevent the destruction of canopy trees in the first place! How will destroying the Koonung Creek wetlands in Elgar Park, Mont Albert North and other areas assist in maintaining biodiversity? The situation is bizarre.
Will Council join with the other three Councils; Banyule, Boroondara and Manningham in a renewed legal action to prevent this environmental catastrophe? Perhaps the City of Yarra can come on board too?
It is noted from the very comprehensive document prepared by Maddocks Lawyers (undated) submitted to the NE Link EES Inquiry Panel by the combined Cities of Banyule, Boroondara and Whitehorse that the City of Whitehorse was fully aware of the many negative effects of this appalling project and the municipalities involved are to be commended on stating the obvious; that there are more problems with this project than can be resolved by merely (in theory) ‘alleviating traffic jams’.
Very briefly, the Submission (in relation to vegetation and open space loss) for the Inquiry prepared by Maddocks Lawyers, in relation to Whitehorse states, inter alia:
- “It is unacceptable that sections of the Koonung Creek are proposed to be undergrounded. Koonung Creek should not be piped underground and there should be no detrimental impacts to these significant wetlands. The social impact of tree removal is dismissed in the EES and shows a lack of appreciation that our community places on a green, leafy environment”.
- “Council strongly objects to the number of trees planned and at risk of removal within Whitehorse, particularly mature trees. Recommendation - Significant reduction in the number of trees to be removed is to be achieved and vegetation at Elgar Park to be classified as native vegetation not amenity plantings”.
- “Council does not approve the use of Elgar Park as a laydown area, due to the significant community impacts. Similar conditions apply to the proposed laydown area at Junction Road Reserve, Nunawading”.
- “The permanent loss of open space is a major concern for Council. The EES is dismissive of the significant social, environmental, visual and health impacts on our community from this loss of land”.
Why is this situation being allowed to occur? As stated in the introduction, what right does the government and NELP have to destroy existing parkland and thousands of trees? What right does the government have to risk my mental health and that of thousands of other residents?
Surely the government and NELP are potentially in breach of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Environment Protection Act 1970?
As stated in my submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Health Effects of Air Pollution what right does the government and NELP have to risk my health and wellbeing for a failed 1950’s Los Angeles style road project which as everyone except NELP knows will clog with traffic within a year of opening?
General Comments Concerning Canopy Tree Loss in Whitehorse
For many years planning attention seemed to address only the areas surrounding Blackburn Lake and just south of Blackburn station where a number of streetscapes are classified by the National Trust. In many of these streets vegetation cascades down near to the roadside; there are no front fences and few side fences between properties. Many streets have no concrete footpaths or kerb and channel drainage. Winding laneway streetscapes give a delightful rural aspect.
These areas are great examples of town planning and show what can be done with a little imagination. This is clearly reflected in the house prices in these areas in Blackburn compared to other areas in the municipality. (Refer to photographs 11 and 12 for a couple of examples).
With the implementation of SLO9 hopefully similar street design can be established elsewhere in the municipality however if street design cannot be modified due to cost at least individual developments MUST be considered from a tree and established garden first perspective. In other words, planning controls must require that canopy trees are retained (within the SLO9 framework) and building footprints are small enough that Council can require canopy tree planting on available land. No more ‘moonscaping!
As I stated in my Submission to the Planning Panels Victoria - Inquiry Panel on the Whitehorse Planning Scheme Amendment C219 – Municipal Wide Tree Study I am pessimistic about the environmental empathy of many Whitehorse residents and developers. Tree protection on private property will never work unless there is the threat of a big stick being wielded by the municipality.
Clearly comments in the Urban Tree Strategy also recognise that many citizens simply don’t understand the value of trees or a green landscape. The comment in the section ‘Diverse attitudes to trees and vegetation’ sums this up succinctly - “However, some do not share this view. Vegetation is not always prioritised to be retained, particularly on new development sites”. It is stating the obvious that education of residents and the big stick approach are required with far more diligence at the building and town planning application stage. Deliberately cutting down canopy trees prior to making a building application should in my view be met with a jail sentence as pitiful fines are often met as a cost of doing business by unscrupulous developers.
Legislation Relating to Public Health and Wellbeing, Flora and Fauna and Environment Protection
Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008
In relation to the City of Whitehorse:
The World Health Organisation definition of Health states: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, (July 1946).
Section 24 requires Council’s inter alia to seek to protect, improve and promote public health and wellbeing within the municipal district by— (a) creating an environment which supports the health of members of the local community and strengthens the capacity of the community and individuals to achieve better health.
Section 26 refers to municipal public health and wellbeing plans:
- Inter alia, (1) a Council must, in consultation with the Secretary, prepare a municipal public health and wellbeing plan within the period of 12 months after each general election of the Council.
- (2) A municipal public health and wellbeing plan must— (a) include an examination of data about health status and health determinants in the municipal district; (b) identify goals and strategies based on available evidence for creating a local community in which people can achieve maximum health and wellbeing;
Not taking action renders the Council liable for a breach of the Act for avoidance of its Duty of Care to residents.
- Section 58 refers to ‘Nuisances’ a concept applying to British public health acts dating back to the 19th Century:
- (1) This Division applies to nuisances which are, or are liable to be, dangerous to health or offensive.
- (2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), this Division applies in particular to nuisances arising from or constituted by any— inter alia (e) noise or emission; or (f) state, condition or activity; or (g) other matter or thing— which is, or is liable to be, dangerous to health or offensive.
- (3) For the purpose of determining whether a nuisance arising from or constituted by any matter or thing referred to in subsection (2) is, or is liable to be, dangerous to health or offensive— (a) regard must not be had to the number of persons affected or that may be affected; and (b) regard may be had to the degree of offensiveness.
In my view and in line with modern thinking of the risks to mental health in the workplace and the broader community it follows that the World Health Organisation definition of Health includes ‘mental health and welfare’ and ‘social well being’ and thus the definition of a ‘Nuisance’ applies under section 58. Contrary to assertions by the City of Whitehorse CEO in previous correspondence to the undersigned a ‘Nuisance’ does not have to be occurring before Council can take action.
Note that under section 63 an aggrieved person may take the failure of a Council to investigate an alleged Nuisance to the Magistrates Court.
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
Section 6 -Inter alia, this Act shall bind the Crown. There are a number of endangered species of birds and plants in the area of the proposed NE Link works.
Environment Protection Act 1970 as amended
Section 1G - Principle of shared responsibility (1) Protection of the environment is a responsibility shared by all levels of Government and industry, business, communities and the people of Victoria.
Section 2 - Application of Act (1) This Act binds the Crown in right of Victoria and, so far as the legislative power of the Parliament permits, the Crown in all its other capacities.
Transport Integration Act 2010
Division 2 requires that transport systems meet a number of ethical, social, economic and environmental objectives. It is contended that these requirements have been ignored by the government in its haste to build NE Link.
The NE Link project should be abandoned completely. The negative effects including from the destruction of trees and parkland far outweigh the positive effects. Freeways do not solve traffic problems and become congested as soon as they are constructed shifting traffic jams elsewhere.
The City of Whitehorse in consultation with the other municipalities including Yarra should reinstitute legal proceedings to force the government and NELP to abandon the project completely.
If the project is to proceed it should be halted until the project design is amended to ensure that ALL of the requirements in the document Submission on North East Link Project: Environment Effects Statement Works Approval Application and Draft Planning Scheme Amendment are able to be complied with together with the requirements recommended by the EES Inquiry Panel.
The City of Whitehorse must insist that all loss of parkland and trees is offset at NELP’s expense within the municipality in a substantial urban forest park with green corridors to the Council’s satisfaction. If this cannot be achieved the project should be abandoned. In particular the Koonung Creek wetlands must be protected.
This concludes the submission.
John Young GradDipEnvSc, MOHS, FRSPH, CFSIA, ChOHSP
Maddocks Lawyers; Submission on North East Link Project: Environment Effects Statement Works Approval Application and Draft Planning Scheme Amendment on behalf of Banyule City Council, Boroondara City Council and Whitehorse City Council (undated)
Whitehorse City Council; Draft Urban Forest Strategy 2021-2031 (undated)
John Young; Submission to Inquiry Panel – Planning Panels Victoria; Whitehorse Planning Scheme Amendment C219: Municipal Wide tree Study (19 November 2019).