Battle to save heritage trees

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Battle to save heritage-listed trees at Newmarket Station.

UPDATE MONDAY, 3 FEBRUARY, 4.50PM: Council has been advised that community action is planned at Newmarket Station from 7am on Wednesday, 5 February.

UPDATE FRIDAY, 31 JANUARY, 10.15AM: Metro has agreed to meet with Council officers next Wednesday, 5 February to discuss the heritage-listed trees. Councillors last night voted unanimously to continue the fight to save the River Red Gum at Newmarket Station.

UPDATE THURSDAY, 30 JANUARY, 1PM: Metro Trains has advised us the heritage-listed River Red Gum won’t be removed before 4pm on Friday, 7 February.

UPDATE TUESDAY, 28 JANUARY, 11.12AM: SPECIAL COUNCIL MEETING. The Mayor has requested a Special Council Meeting to consider Council’s response to the planned removal of trees at Newmarket Station, Flemington. The meeting will take place this Thursday, 30 January at 6pm at the Council Chambers, 9 Kellaway Avenue, Moonee Ponds.

UPDATE FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY,  4.20PM: TREE SAFE FOR NOW! The heritage-listed River Red Gum at Newmarket Station in Flemington will not be cut down this weekend. Metro Trains has agreed this afternoon to halt planned works on the 100-year-old tree in the short term. As a result, no applications were made for enforcement orders. Negotiations will continue next week.

UPDATE FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY, 3.33PM: We have begun enforcement proceedings and are currently seeking an interim enforcement order in VCAT to prevent the tree from being removed.

UPDATE THURSDAY, 23 JANUARY, 4.05PM: Our lawyers have just provided us with the following advice: that the evidence produced by the Department of Transport has not reasonably established that the River Red Gum currently poses a risk to any person on or using the railway track and, as such, the removal of the tree would not be a reasonable exercise of power pursuant to section 67A of the Rail Management Act. Our lawyers have advised us that a planning permit for the removal of the River Red Gum is required under the Moonee Valley Planning Scheme. If the trees are removed this weekend, they will be in breach of their legal obligations.

Council is seeking legal advice over Metro Trains Melbourne’s decision to remove heritage-listed trees at Newmarket Station in Flemington.

Since Metro Trains Melbourne informed us on Tuesday it would be removing trees, including a more than 100 year old River Red Gum, we have seen a copy of their report, which was provided to us confidentially.

Moonee Valley Chief Executive Officer Bryan Lancaster said after reading the report, Council is more convinced than ever that there are plenty of other options for the heritage-listed River Red Gum to be retained while keeping people safe.

“We are concerned the decision to remove the tree is to cover up the lack of maintenance at the station by Metro, which is now causing problems with the retaining wall.

“Back in 2014, Council fought hard to retain the historic station building and introduce heritage controls to protect it after Metro sought to demolish it following a clear lack of maintenance. We are concerned this is a repeat of history, however this time our strict heritage protections on the tree are not enough to save it.

“This report must be released to the public. We would like Metro and the Department of Transport to be upfront about their reasoning for removing these trees. They’ve had our report for more than a year and we have heard nothing and now we have been presented with a confidential report three days before works are planned, despite the report being finalised last December. The community deserves better.”

Our arborist report is available here. We’d love Metro to follow suit and share their report with the public.

Moonee Valley Mayor Cr Samantha Byrne said not only is the Red Gum listed within our Significant Tree Register, it is also protected under a Heritage Overlay and an Environmental Significance Overlay, which is the strongest protection afforded under the Moonee Valley Planning Scheme.

“Council has publicly opposed the removal of the trees since we were first advised by Metro Trains in late 2018. The trees are all in good health and condition and can be seen from far and wide. Their removal would have a huge impact on the landscape around Newmarket Station,” Cr Byrne said.

“An independent arborist report sourced by Council early last year showed the heritage-listed tree was in no way impacting the platform or rail line, as Metro had initially stated.”

Mr Lancaster said the urgency to remove this tree within a few days’ time is bewildering as the Department and Metro have not communicated with Council since late 2018 despite our frequent requests for information.

“All we are asking is that all avenues are fully explored before the hasty removal of the trees, which seem to be happening just to suit Metro’s timetable while the Craigieburn line is closed for planned works,” Mr Lancaster said.

“These are unacceptable excuses for the removal of such a significant tree and we are currently seeking legal advice. We are trying to do this as quickly as possible given we were only informed of the removal on Tuesday, with works due to start tomorrow evening.

“We understand Metro is using its powers under the Rail Management Act 1996 to bypass having to seek a planning permit from Council. Council does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to warrant the removal of the tree using the powers set out in the Act as no root investigations have been conducted so the size, location and distribution of the root system of the tree is unknown.

“Both the railway and the tree have coexisted successfully for many years. The soil profile under the railway line is likely to be very dry, compacted and stable. All these conditions are unfavourable to root growth and in Council’s view a detailed root investigation should be undertaken before forming an opinion.

“Issues relating to concerns over branch failure are also overstated and could be reduced and easily mitigated by minor pruning as in normal management practice. We’re not aware of a peer review or published research that demonstrates that River Red Gums shed branches at any greater or lesser rate than any other species of tree. To remove a Red Gum based on the remote possibility that it could shed a limb more so than any other tree in the municipality (without any major visible defects) is not justified in Council’s opinion. Within the canopy of this tree there are no visible signs of decay. It’s also important to note the tree does not ‘lean’ over the railway platform, railway line or rail corridor – it leans away from this infrastructure.

“As the National Trust has previously stated, the tree has historic significance, landscape significance and is likely to have cultural significance. Without conducting proper investigations and assessments, a decision to remove this highly valued and protected tree is criminal.

“The tree is a valuable asset in the landscape. It provides a sense of place in and around Newmarket Station. It has historic and landscape significance. It is protected by an Environmental Significance Overlay and a Heritage Overlay, and forms part of the City of Moonee Valley’s Significant Tree Register.

“This is a tree that should be retained, and all other measures should be strenuously investigated before even contemplating the tree’s removal.”

We urge the public to support us in any way possible to help us save these significant trees. Contact your local media, contact your local MP, residents’ association or heritage association.

The Flemington Association is holding a protest at the site from 7am tomorrow.

*Please see our previous article on this issue for more information.