By VANESSA LIM
An announcement that 10 mature trees on Smidmore Street in Marrickville, next to the construction site for the expansion of the Metro Shopping Centre, will be chopped down, has caused anger. The Metro shopping mall expansion, which was approved by the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) in 2012, first stated that the trees would be kept during the construction works. However, the announcement they’ll now be felled has provoked a reaction among residents and shoppers concerned about the environmental impacts.
A spokesperson from Inner West Council Council (IWC), which replaced Marrickville Council during forced amalgamations with neighbouring councils in 2016, said: “The former Marrickville Council always vigorously opposed the proposed expansion of Marrickville Metro shopping centre. Council raised concerns when the Metro expansion was first proposed in regards to these trees, and stated the development needed to be set back to protect them.”
Despite these environmental concerns, AMP Capital, the owner of the Metro, produced an arborist report stating that the development could proceed as they had planned whilst retaining the trees, although this was disputed by the former council, who were primarily concerned that the trees’ root systems and branches would be irreparably damaged by heavy machinery and digging.
“The Department of Planning’s 2012 approval came with a condition that the 10 trees along Smidmore Street be retained,” said a spokesperson from IWC. Despite the arborist report stating that the trees could be maintained, the expansion process proved that the trees root system would be breached.
“A Modification application (75w) was lodged in late 2017. This was when Council sought to have the condition to retain the trees amended, as it was clear then that the root systems and canopy of these trees would be so compromised by the development that they would no longer be viable.”
The approval has now been amended to state the trees must be removed and replaced with 20 new trees. The IWC has advocated for sustainable planting methods that will protect trees over time.
Independent Councillor Pauline Lockie, who raised community concerns on the Metro expansion in the original Marrickville Council, said: “It’s good that the 10 trees will be replaced with 20 trees. However, the 10 trees that are being destroyed are mature trees that would otherwise have been healthy for decades. Replacement trees will take many years to grow to the same height and canopy, and provide the same benefits as the trees we’re losing.”
The former Marrickville Council agreed that this development would affect locals. “Council believed this was an overdevelopment that would jeopardise local main street shopping strips, adversely affect residents and cause traffic problems in the area surrounding the Metro,” said an IWC spokesperson.
The tree felling has reprised concerns about the NSW State Government taking power away from local councils to act as arbitrator on local issues. Clr Lockie has expressed concern that developments such as the Metro expansion often affect locals directly but have little impact on the NSW State Government.
“It’s a massive issue that the NSW planning process allows developers to go over the heads of Councils and get their proposals approved by the state government instead,” said Clr Lockie. “It’s a process that’s designed to shut down legitimate local concerns, and it leads to poorer outcomes for communities.
“This is an important point because the majority of people I speak to aren’t anti-development. We all need places to live, shop and work. But residents do want a real say in what gets built in their neighbourhoods, and to make sure new developments genuinely benefit the community. These should be pretty basic rights. But they get swept away by a planning process that locks out locals.
“Generally speaking, I believe Councils push a lot harder than the state government for the concerns of local residents and experts to be taken seriously, and for modifications to be made to developments to accommodate these concerns,” said Clr Lockie.
“We live and work within the community, so we have the local connections and knowledge to be able to do this effectively. And most importantly, we’re answerable to our communities in ways that state government bureaucrats and Ministers are not.”
While Amp Capital is continuing their construction program, they have made an effort to be proactive with the local community over the tree removal issue.
“In fairness to the Marrickville Metro, I think their [AMP] management is making efforts to accommodate local concerns as the construction has proceeded,” said Clr Lockie, “as I know their team has been liaising with both Council staff and members of the community during works. But it would be great to see that collaborative approach taken from the start, so we can avoid issues like the one we’re seeing now with the loss of these trees,” she added.
“Council staff have informed me that AMP Capital is conducting fauna assessments on the trees, which is good. I know this request has been put to AMP Capital by community members as well, so I appreciate that they’re taking steps to try and address the situation.”