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Historic North Tce trees to remain on death row

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Eleven century-old trees at risk of being chopped down as part of the Lot Fourteen development are no closer to being saved, with the Adelaide City Council claiming it needs to delay reaching a decision because it hasn’t been properly consulted by the State Government.

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At a heated meeting at Town Hall last night, Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said the State Government had failed to properly brief the council on how it intended to transform the North Terrace streetscape outside the old Royal Adelaide Hospital into the new entrance to Lot Fourteen.

InDaily revealed last week that Renewal SA – the State Government body in charge of the development – had requested that the trees be removed so it can widen the North Terrace footpath and modify ground levels to create what it describes as a “seamless entry” to the site.

According to a council report, Renewal SA had proposed building an “uninterrupted green walk” through the section of the footpath where the trees are currently located, paved with “high-quality natural stone paver”.

The report states the trees are at least 100 years old and include ten Chinese and English elms and one plane tree lining the northern side of North Terrace from Frome Road to the front of the Bice Building.

Ten of the trees are regulated, with one listed as significant.

Council arborists claim the trees are expected to live to at least 2039 and hold a monetary value of $660,000.

However, an independent arborist report states the quality of the trees is “generally low to moderate”, with a life expectancy of less than five years.

The State Commission Assessment Panel approved to the trees’ removal, but the Adelaide City Council has the final say “in its role as having care and control of the land”.

Verschoor last night convinced city councillors to delay approving the trees’ removal, arguing a lack of information from the State Government meant the council could not reach an informed decision.

The move came after council staff recommended elected members approve the trees’ removal on the proviso that Renewal SA plant a minimum of eleven new trees along a redeveloped North Terrace footpath – a provision Renewal SA said it would meet.

“Fair to say, I think we haven’t been briefed properly in terms of the context,” Verschoor said.

“There’s been… lots of conjecture of this and I’ve asked for quite a bit of information on this, some of which I’m hoping is coming tonight.

“Nobody wants to see those heritage trees gone but I’m actually looking at two different reports now from arborists, so I just want a bit more information before I make a decision.”

Verschoor said the State Government had consulted the city council’s North Terrace Masterplan, created in 2011, to inform its design for the Lot Fourteen frontage.

“I’d certainly like to actually see the presentation on what we have already done, what the masterplan was, how this fits into the last section and whether there’s been any attempts to retain those trees,” she said.

“I would like to ask for this item to be deferred purely and simply so we can be briefed properly.”

Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Verschoor won support from councillors Alexander Hyde, Mary Couros and Helen Donovan, who said they did not support the trees’ removal, but wanted to wait until the State Government released its design for the Lot Fourteen frontage before reaching a final decision.

“I have serious misgivings about any tree removal – any removal of healthy trees – equally so, I have serious misgivings about going into a decision without the information in front of us about what we’re actually deciding on,” Hyde said.

“There should be no reason that Oxigen, who are the Government’s architects for this Lot Fourteen rethink, can’t find a way to pave around the trees.”

Jessy Khera and Franz Knoll also argued in favour of delaying the vote until the Government provided its full plan to the council, with both councillors expressing support for the trees’ removal.

“If we do have old trees and they are on decline, they do need to be looked after and that comes at an expense,” Knoll said.

“We have been gifted this – this component – and it’s our property, so we do need to think a little bit about that because any changes in the future, we are going to subject future councils to this expense.”

But councillors Anne Moran, Phil Martin and Robert Simms rejected Verschoor’s call to delay the vote.

I’m happy to say that we vote against this chainsaw massacre tonight

They argued that delaying the decision would convince some councillors to support the trees’ removal.

“In my mind this isn’t a difficult decision to make,” Moran said.

“We know what we need to know: they’re healthy, they’re there, they’re on the footpath, they don’t obstruct any of the new buildings or new developments in any way, they’re just part of the landscape planning.

“I’m happy to say that we vote against this chainsaw massacre tonight.”

Simms said he didn’t want to have the trees “kept on death row for another few weeks”.

“The idea that we would rip up mature trees that provide a huge amount of natural shade on one of our city’s busiest streets, to me, would be absolutely absurd,” he said.

Martin also spoke against the decision to delay the vote, describing it as a “furphy” that the State Government had consulted a council masterplan created in 2011 to inform its design for the Lot Fourteen frontage.

“It defies reason to believe that a 2011 plan is going to show a boulevard that is compatible with the Lot Fourteen development, which wasn’t announced until post-2014,” he said.

“Deferring this matter to receive more information means getting information about what it’s going to look like in order to be able to justify it.”

In a statement to InDaily, Planning Minister Stephan Knoll said there had been some “misinformation” regarding the trees, but he did not disclose which information he was referred to.

“The State Government wants this issue resolved as quickly as possible and would welcome a broader discussion regarding the overall master plan for Public Realm and Lot Fourteen,” he said.

“Renewal SA will continue to work with the Adelaide City Council to progress this important project, which will be home to the Australian Space Agency, SmartSat CRC, Mission Control, and Space Discovery Centre, driving growth across high-tech industries for decades to come.”

Renewal SA also told InDaily in a statement that the city council had been consulted as part of the planning process.

I feel somewhat bullied continuously by this kind of stuff

In a press release published last week, Minister Knoll said Renewal SA would create a “contemporary urban environment” on North Terrace outside Lot Fourteen.

The release said the area would feature public art and large established trees to “increase amenity and assist in creating a sense of place”.

“Tree selection and placement is integral to achieving a visually and functionally consistent public realm that also meets aesthetic and ‘healthy cities’ objectives,” Knoll was quoted as saying.

“The open spaces have been designed to be flexible to cater for the varying needs of the community and will be accessibility friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.”

During last night’s council debate, Moran levelled criticism at councillor Franz Knoll – the father of Planning Minister Stephan Knoll – for participating in the debate, arguing his relation to the Minister constituted a conflict of interest.

“Franz I’m surprised that you still stay in the room with these things,” Moran said, before the meeting’s chair Houssam Abiad interjected, arguing that she was speaking out of turn.

“Actually, it is my mandated right to point out when I think somebody has a conflict of interest,” Moran said.

Knoll said he was being “disrespected” in the chamber.

“I feel somewhat bullied continuously by this kind of stuff,” he said.

“You’re disrespecting me.”

Abiad said Moran was potentially breaching the council’s standing orders by referring to Knoll as the father of a government minister.

“Standing orders clearly say how we talk to each other in this chamber and I didn’t think you were conducting yourself appropriately,” he said.

“To use proper terms, councillor Knoll is an elected member of the local city, Minister Knoll is an elected member of the state.

“In this meeting be professional, please stick to those rules.”

The council will delay debate on the trees’ removal until its next committee meeting on September 3 ahead of a final vote on September 10.

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