The happy news was shared Thursday morning, following a nervous overnight wait, that Metro has agreed to work with Moonee Valley Council to find engineering solutions and preserve Red while reinforcing the platform retaining wall.
This agreement is, no doubt, the result of firm advocacy by Moonee Valley Council, supported by thousands of community members who have voiced anger at Metro’s decision to remove trees without a planning permit.
Questions still remain about the other nine trees, and there is also a push for longer term commitments by the State Government contractor, Metro Trains Melbourne, to work with local governments and residents to avoid such scenarios in the future.
Moonee Valley’s statement reads:
“Yesterday [Wednesday 5 February] we met with Metro about the future of the more than 100-year-old River Red Gum at Newmarket Station.
Metro has committed to working with us on a solution to retaining the heritage-listed River Red Gum.
“We are very pleased that Metro is taking our concerns seriously and consideration is being given to protecting and retaining this significant tree,” Moonee Valley Mayor Cr Samantha Byrne said.
“The community has fought hard to protect this tree and they should be very proud of themselves.”
At this stage Metro has further extended their commitment not to start tree removal works before 4pm on Friday, 14 February.
“We will continue our discussions with Metro to ensure we can come to a solution that doesn’t involve removing the Red Gum,” Cr Byrne said.
“We will also continue to work with them in relation to the other trees that are earmarked for removal.”
You can read more information on this issue in our previous article.“
Some concerns have been expressed about Metro’s level of commitment afforded by this statement. The retention of Red is subject to engineering solutions being found. Several people with relevant expertise have expressed confidence that such solutions are available.
Metro’s commitment to working with Council to find a solution is a reversal of their position conveyed to residents via their complaints line as recently as 5pm Tuesday, in which they offered the wood from Red to local community groups for “repurpos[ing]”:
Recent inspections by experts have indicated that certain trees at Newmarket Station pose potential safety risks to users of Newmarket Station and the surrounding area, which includes pedestrian paths and a playground … A further independent review commissioned by the Department of Transport confirmed that certain trees at Newmarket Station must be removed to ensure the safety of rail users and the local community, particularly having regard to necessary works to install a new retaining wall adjoining the reserve … Moonee Valley City Council and local community groups will also be able to repurpose the wood from one particular tree (a river red gum) which is important to the local community.
While there is confidence Red will be retained, there is less certainty about the other nine trees.
The legal position is that these trees are covered by a Heritage Overlay with tree controls (HO30) and that a planning permit is required for their removal. An exemption exists if the tree presents an immediate risk to person or property.
Moonee Valley Council have stated that they do not believe the threshold for exemption has been met with evidence, and that it is their ongoing view that a planning permit is required for the removal of any of the trees.
Further discussions are taking place, and updates will be forthcoming as information is available.
Residents have expressed concern about the seeming disregard shown by Metro to the planning processes, and a reliance on arguments of public safety without the production of publicly available evidence.
Residents hope to find ways to work with Metro in the future that lead to much improved communication and adherence to planning processes. This is particularly the case given that Newmarket Station has required various maintenance works and is likely to require more.
Flemington has a rich and important history in Melbourne: with the stockyard, racetrack and gateway to the west and the goldfields. The Indigenous history of the area, and the ongoing connection with land, flora and waterways, continues to be vulnerable to injustice.
The level of concern for Red and the other trees, especially ‘Peppy’ the peppercorn on the corner of Racecourse Rd and Pin Oak Crescent, demonstrates the commitment of the Flemington community to our natural environment, and our anger at those who ignore due process.
Thank you to all the many groups and individuals who have been involved.
In Flemington, the trees are defended. And we are so very glad that Red lives.