Dear Mayor and Councillors,
I am writing to you ahead of tonight’s Special Council meeting to consider the future of the heritage trees at Newmarket Station.
Community members are grateful the meeting has been called and hope that Council can resolve to protect the River Red Gum and other healthy mature trees, as well as the landscaping created over ten years by the volunteers in the Newmarket Stationeers group.
Over 1000 people have signed an online petition asking Metro Trains and Public Transport Victoria to protect the trees, and close to 700 have signed a hardcopy petition.
Metro Trains and PTV appear to have behaved in a bullish manner with respect to Newmarket and the community – providing little notice, information, transparency, constructing a fence around public land, removing community signs, and, worst of all, not seeking a permit for the removal of trees protected by the Moonee Valley Planning Scheme.
I note the report to Council outlines some key facts: Agenda-of-the-Special-Meeting-of-Council-to-be-held-30-January-2019
That if the trees are removed after 7 February without a planning permit, Council’s lawyers maintain their advice that this “would be a breach of the Planning and Environment Act, 1987”.
That the MTM and PTV reports do not “categorically state the significant trees cannot be retained, and state that further works should be undertaken.”
That: “Advice to Council is that the evidence produced by DoT and MTM has not reasonably established that the river red gum currently poses a risk to any persons on or using the railway track”.
That, instead, the advice is that “trees have compromised the structural integrity of the station platforms and environs, including retaining walls” and that the perceived safety risk is as a result of this structural assessment.
That MTM has not provided plans of landscaping outcomes. That MTM reports “include options whereby the trees could be retained”.
The report to Council ends with the clear advice that:
MTM has not provided information that warrants the use of the provisions of the Rail Management Act,1996. Council considers that a planning permit is required under Moonee Valley Planning Scheme.
Given this advice, it’s not clear how the recommendation to Council will enact this advice.
The recommendation is that Council writes to MTM and requests that a commitment not to remove the River Red Gum is provided to Council by 12pm 5 Feb, and that Council will dedicate $25K to finding engineering solutions.
The commitment of funds is very welcome and generous, given that MTM and PTV appear to be shirking their own responsibilities in this regard.
It would give the community much greater comfort if the resolution from MVCC included a clear statement about what action Council is prepared to take should MTM not respond by the deadline.
Clearly, MTM and PTV have shown little regard for MVCC, community and the trees. I understand the ‘stay of execution’ last Friday was only achieved when Council threatened to take enforcement action at VCAT.
While it should not be Council’s responsibility to bring MTM to account (and the Department of Transport should be playing a much greater role in ensuring its contractors work constructively with stakeholders including MVCC), the trees, and the community, are now relying on Council to speak for them and defend them against Metro’s poor behaviour.
Thank you for the work undertaken to date to carry out diligent assessments of trees in the area and to maintain and protect significant and healthy trees.
This River Red Gum currently has the backing of the best tree doctors in town: respected arborists and the National Trust. We know it has more life to live.
Please take the strongest steps possible to protect Moonee Valley’s heritage trees.