A tree lands in the appeals tribunal


I believe in good government. I believe that many of our public sector employees do a great job. Occasionally, I even witness a politician who has values and fights for them (rarely).

But this optimism in our democratic process takes a hit when you read about the ridiculous goings on within the planning arena of our local government.

The story was told recently in the Canberra Times about a dispute that went before ACAT (The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal)–and despite the best efforts of well paid legals, it remains unresolved.

This dispute was all about a tree. And not just any tree.

This very large London Plane Tree sits very awkwardly between buildings on the cinema site in Manuka that is owned by one of Canberra’s major developers.

Protecting our trees is one of the honourable things that bureaucrats have to do on our behalf. There are many stories in this city about trees being saved. Each is a different tale and many get complicated.

Unfortunately there are many instances when silly decisions are made. I know of several where people’s lives have been unnecessarily disrupted because of strange decisions about trees.


The thing is, trees need to be protected. But we also need to be flexible and keep our eye on the context. Sometimes a tree, or trees, have to go (and be replaced with others) to make way for something important like a sensible development or to progress significant urban changes (for example, down Northbourne).

Being sensible does not mean that any suburban significant tree needs to be damaged and ultimately obliterated because a developer /owner has the desire to build a super large mansion on a block of land.

Suburban trees are part of our urban forests whether they are on public or private land, and they definitely need to be looked after.

But this London Plane Tree in Manuka is another case altogether. One wonders how did it end up being allowed to grow in this very tiny crevice between buildings. Back when this cinema was built a decision was made and the repercussions are now being played out in the appeals tribunal.

The goings-on around the future of this tree are now costing tens of thousands of dollars as strange pedantic points are argued about–with many of those dollars being ratepayers money.  The lawyers just love all this!

The Canberra Times report mentions that tree decisions have become more complicated because 691 pages of amendments were added to the legislation back in 2009. That’s bureaucracy gone mad!

Have a look at the photographs. That tree is wonderful but it is stuck in the wrong place. No matter what the developer wants to do, something is going to have to done about that tree eventually.


The bureaucrats involved in this debate need to stop this silliness and to get all involved to sit down and work through what would be good for the total environment around this site. They need to think outside the 691 pages of gobbledigook and ask themselves questions such as if this tree were to be removed, then what could be planted to more than cover the loss and to enhance the green infrastructure of the precinct on and around the cinema site.

This is not rocket science! Surely we do not need to spend even more thousands of ratepayers dollars on this and to take up the valuable time of the appeals tribunal.

Far too many things to do with planning, including decisions on significance and heritage are ending up in the tribunal. It is not the planning authority but if you look at planning over the recent years, it has become the way that difficult planning decisions are now allowed to be resolved. This has to stop.

We need a new approach to planning–including those about trees (and liquor licensing laws)–and we need people to be told to put their heads together to come up with solutions.

The bureaucracy involved in these tree decisions loses a lot of credibility when there are stories such as this Manuka debacle. The bureaucrats need to see the future of any significant tree in the total context of the precinct rather than being about the future a one enormous London Plan Tree–not one of this country’s favourite imported trees!

As I have stated many times, I love trees.

But sometimes the local bureaucratic approach to trees gets far too silly. This is one of those occasions. The goings-on around this Manuka tree are something else! To all involved with this decision and the allowing of it to go to ACAT, get real and stop wasting our dollars. Find a solution! Fast. And meanwhile let’s have more trees.

Dealing with these issues can be complicated but we need to maintain a grip on reality.

I am sure there are many other seriously silly tree stories out there. I am also sure there are stories out there when the developers have threatened our urban trees simply to make more bucks – at any cost.

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