A few words from North Sydney Council's Mayor, Zoë Baker.
Over the past two years I have spoken with many residents who are angry about the impact of the Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT) on the environment, air quality and local traffic.
I expected that anger to increase as we were confronted by the impact of the project in reality and not just on paper. But nothing prepared me for the outpouring of grief I have seen since the trees were cut down in Cammeray and North Sydney to make way for roads and construction sheds.
Residents have told me they felt devastated when they saw the long empty stretches where trees had been. They cried when they saw dead wildlife on the roads and realised they had been killed while trying to find new habitat.
They have written me angry, distressed and poignant letters like this email from Sandy, a Cammeray resident, who wrote: “I live very close to the Golf Course on Warringa Road opposite Green Park so have personally listened to the chainsaws and chipper machines going nonstop for the past two weeks, hearing less birds, seeing less trees each time I leave my home and noting the blue and pink ribbons tied around each tree highlighting the death sentence of which ones are next. Today, as I walked my dog, I noticed new blue ribbons on two trees facing Warringa Road.
“My home has been in our family for 80 years so I grew up with these trees. In summer with a light wind they rustle in harmony like they are singing in delight as they fan a cool breeze to the bottom of Green Park and in strong winds they sway and call loudly telling us to hurry home and be safe.”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that canopy loss in the North Sydney local government area (LGA) is at crisis point. In 1997 our canopy covered 19% of the LGA and Council began a concerted tree planting effort. We made real progress, peaking in 2008 with 34% canopy cover. By 2022, it had dropped to 25%. The State Government won’t tell us how many trees they have removed for the WHT and Warringah Freeway upgrade, but it was estimated at around 1300 mature trees. With tree removal for other developments including the Metro, our canopy cover could be perilously close to where we started 25 years ago.
I am at a loss to understand why the protection of trees is not considered critical in large infrastructure projects. Their value has been documented by international scientific research over and again.
Trees reduce urban heat by up to 50 Celsius, improve air quality, store carbon, reduce stormwater runoff and pollutants in waterways, and improve physical and mental health. The trees in our streets and parks protect biodiversity by providing crucial links between fragments of bushland. Ecosystems are finely balanced; destroy one part and you can unwittingly destroy it all.
Trees even have commercial value - houses with street trees sell for more and command higher rent, and people will spend more in CBDs that have trees. The average structural (replacement) value of a tree is $31,000 which means the tree loss is $40.3m for our community.
Yes, the State Government is offering to replant trees at a ratio of 2 to 1. But where will all these extra trees go? It takes at least 30 years for trees to grow back with substantial canopy, some 100 years or more. Even if they give us semi mature trees, which they have not said they will do, it will be a generation before this damage is repaired.
Councillors and staff have been powerless to stop the destruction and, like you, we have wept at the loss. The term tree hugger has often been used pejoratively and defined as someone who is foolish or annoying because of their concern about protecting trees and animals. Seeing the carnage around me, it’s a label I now wear with honour.
This news article was printed in the November 2022 edition of North Sydney News.