Dickson trees

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Any tree is worth saving. Any group of trees is always worth fighting for. But I also acknowledge that when absolutely necessary any tree can be replaced.

Decisions about our trees should not be about individual trees but more about the long-term number of trees that form Canberra’s famous urban forest. I have long argued that if trees really need to be removed, the first step is to plan for their replacement or the better still to plant even more than are being removed.

In and around Dickson in the coming years, if everything goes ahead that has been announced, the ACT Government will be responsible for a significant reduction in the number of trees.

With the car park next to Woolworths having been sold by the government to make way for the new supermarket, there will be the loss of more than sixty trees. Add to that the repeated stated intention that the government is moving to redevelop the Dickson Parklands for loads of apartments, the Dickson precinct is in danger of losing many valuable trees and precious open spaces.

I agree that much of the Dickson Parklands site has been under-utilised. However with the rise in the population in the surrounding suburbs due to constant intensifications, this parkland site and its trees will have an important role in the future.

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There will be no getting this open space back if the government developer agency has its way and sells it off.

The most recent proposal was that the corner green space would be redeveloped for a temporary car park. The green space under threat is the area behind the Dickson pool on the corner of Antill and Cowper Streets.

This proposed car park was part of a very lazy and token solution offered by the government to deal with the obvious disruptions to the shopping centre for the predicted several years of construction – if the supermarket gets the go ahead.

We noted that the word ‘temporary’ was used to describe the car park. But when the government was asked about the use of the space after the ‘temporary’ car park was no longer required, everyone noted the spin that was used to indicate that options would be considered when the time came. That is – all options would remain on the table! Including of course, more ‘redevelopment’ – namely more apartments.

No one in government was prepared to commit to the future of the site as a parkland again. And they wonder why we do not trust them on development matters and on the future of our cherished green spaces and trees.

But wait – there is some good news.

In amongst all these concerns about the future of the greenery in our inner northern suburbs, comes a surprising positive message.

It has been reported locally that the temporary car park will not be going ahead. We are not sure what this means for the proposed developer of the supermarket site given that part of the conditions of the development was that the developer was to provide, at their cost, some alternative parking spaces for those being taken over for the proposed super-complex next to Woolworths.

In amongst this story about the trees being saved is a curious and mysterious tale that this decision has come about because of the intervention of a certain politician.

While I celebrate this political initiative, I do wonder what this says about the so-called independence of the planning processes.

And what does it say about commitments to the greenery of the suburb if it requires a special political nudge to do what the electors have requested time and time again – to preserve our green spaces.

Does this mean that at another time another politician could lean on the planning authority or whoever makes the planning and development decisions to favour the desires of some developer friend? Surely not!!

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Meanwhile, let’s be positive. If it is true that the trees on the corner of the parkland site have been saved – then that is a wonderful outcome for the Dickson precinct and the future generations who will make better use of the open spaces.

But – and this is a big BUT – what next for the development application for the new supermarket site? The application was originally knocked back this time last year. The developers were then given the usual designated time to respond with amendments to address the identified deficiencies and faults.

Then to everyone’s surprise – especially those who are familiar with the planning processes, they were then generously granted more time. To keep this short – these extensions have continued to this day.

This style of planning flexibility is amazing. I dare any resident to ask for the same levels of leniency when they submit for their own residential development.

Has there been some form of political message to whoever makes planning decisions these days that they are to be super flexible with this revised supermarket development application?

Meanwhile – it is time to celebrate that the Dickson Parkland trees have a future.

And it is time to insist that this government actually values trees and our landscapes and puts in place plans to see more trees across Dickson  – not less – no matter what ‘urban redevelopment’ they dream up next.

This story has a few more chapters to be played out.

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Paul Costigan

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