On Thursday 7 November, over 150 residents attended a meeting held by Balmain MP Jamie Parker, calling on the government and the Inner West Council to back away from a plan to fell trees in Annandale for the Whites Creek Link section of the Westconnex project.
“The government is waging a war on trees and vegetation in the inner west,” Parker told the crowd. “Less trees means less shade, warmer suburbs, less oxygen and a less-livable urban environment for our community.”
The Whites Creek Link project is a pedestrian and cycling link which will connect Annandale with the area, which is currently home to the Rozelle Rail Yards. The plan will replace road level pedestrian access to the foreshore and the railyards with a network of overpasses and bridges so that cars and trucks can move freely.
In order to construct the White’s Creek link, which will form part of the larger system of over and underpasses, many mature trees in the area between the light rail track and Railway Parade will have to be removed, starting from December.
This isn’t the first time inner-west residents have expressed their concern about the impact of the Westconnex on local tree cover. The removal of trees from Buruwan Park, including two mature Moreton Bay figs, also sparked a number of protests from locals, most recently in September.
“In just the past two months, they have removed a huge number of trees along the City West Link and cleared almost all the vegetation at Buruwan Park – including two magnificent Moreton Bay figs,” Parker said.
The parcel of trees marked for removal currently act as a natural barrier between homes in Annandale and the City West Link. Residents worry that with the removal of the trees they will be exposed to more noise and fumes from the traffic on this major road.
Parker agrees that additional pathways for cyclists and pedestrians are needed in the area, but thinks the current plans sacrifice the area’s environment and need to be revised, not only to maintain the barrier between residential areas and the road, but also to conserve animal habitats and the climate.
“While we need more cycling and pedestrian links in the inner west, they don’t need to come at the cost of hundreds of local trees,” he explained.
“Most cities are growing their tree canopy to create cooler suburbs, provide habitat for local wildlife and fight the effects of climate change. But here in the inner west we’re going backwards.”
The improvements to climate afforded by trees are not minimal. According to the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, for every 10 per cent increase in tree canopy cover, land surface temperatures can be reduced by 1.13 degrees Celsius.
Over a year just one mature tree is capable of absorbing 3,400 litres of stormwater and filtering 27kgs of pollutants from the air. It can take decades for a tree to reach maturity, yet it’s mature trees that Westconnex have earmarked for removal for their project.
In response to community concerns about the trees being removed, Westconnex promised that at the end of the construction period, there will be a tree planting program as part of the revitalisation of the old Rozelle Rail Yards. They said that this project will deliver up to 10 hectares of new parklands to the community.
The NSW Government is also committed to adding five million new trees to Sydney’s tree canopy by 2030. Through their Five Million Tree (5MT) campaign the NSW Government is encouraging individuals, councils, non-government organisations and community groups to plant trees in their local area. In June, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that $340 million would be dedicated to the “Open Spaces and Greener Sydney” project to help meet the goal.
But some locals question why the decision to remove the trees along Railway Parade was not made clear to residents in the proposals for the project. The modification report for the Rozelle Interchange released in August showed that an overpass would be located in the area, but the impact the design of this overpass would have on the tree canopy was not explicitly stated.
“We understand that there is already approval to remove all these trees, so we are calling on the government and the Inner West Council to urgently reconsider the design of this project to allow this vital green barrier to be preserved,” Parker said.
Parker is encouraging residents who are worried about the removal of trees in the area to contact the Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance, to express their concern.