Criticism of the NSW State Government’s attitudes towards environmental protection is growing. One example is the recent claim that the Baird Government is engaging in a war on trees in urban areas.
Jeff Angel, Executive Director of the Total Environment Centre (TEC), has pointed to government decisions over the last 18 months which support this view.
The first he identified is the 10/50 rule allowing landowners to remove trees which could pose a bushfire risk in bushfire-prone areas. The Government ignored concerns about loopholes in the code and the possibility it would be abused. As a result many mature trees across the “leafy” suburbs were felled without clear evidence that bushfire risk would be mitigated. This poorly thought-out code allowed developers to clear blocks and home-owners to improve their water views. Community and local council concerns have since forced three separate changes to the code.
Another major urban vegetation loss will be in the Wolli Creek area (in Sydney's south) with the destruction of a threatened vegetation community when the West Connex road is built. All told the TEC lists over 20 current attacks on urban bushland in Sydney.
A recent incident causing considerable community anger is the removal of mature trees, many of them large figtrees – some over 100 years old – along the Alison Road and Anzac Parade light rail route in eastern Sydney. Suggestions from local residents and Randwick Council about alternatives to felling these significant trees were ignored by the government. Eight young replacement trees will be planted as an offset for every mature tree removed. All very well - but as Jeff Angel states, “They cannot replicate what is lost in any useful time frame.”
While the Baird Government is overseeing the clearing of mature urban trees, the Federal Government is planning to increase urban tree canopies to assist in cooling cities to combat the effects of the rising temperatures cities will experience with climate change. In a recent article Oisin Sweeney, Science Officer of the National Park Association of NSW (NPA) has used this as an example of the contradictions and inconsistencies in the approach of the Federal and NSW State Governments on environmental matters. Such inconsistency would perhaps be understandable if these governments were from different political parties - but both are Liberal-National Coalition.
The NSW Government’s vegetation policies will affect non-urban areas because it is abolishing the Native Vegetation Act 2003 which was introduced in order to stop broadscale land clearing. Given the Baird Government's poor environmental record there are real fears that the new legislation replacing the 2003 Act will downgrade environmental protection in response to urging from farming interests. With so much native vegetation already lost there are concerns about the survival of many flora and fauna species if the new legislation offers diminished protection.