What the DOT Report said about Red

Red and new wall

In January, the Department of Transport (DOT) met with residents at Newmarket Station and told us Red had to be immediately removed (in three days time). DOT told us:

… options have been considered for fixing the wall while also retaining the tree but that this cannot be achieved.

There are two reports outlining options and the condition of the trees but these reports are not publicly available at this time. DoT says the River Red Gum poses an immediate threat to people’s safety.

We all know that the wall has been subsequently fixed, and Red remains.

After DOT refused to release the reports relied on to argue Red was an immediate danger to the public, we lodged a request under Freedom of Information laws for the reports.

There was in fact only one report – completed in December 2019 and then revised in January 2020.  The report can be found here. PTV Work Order 52 Report Final Submission STAMPED

The DOT had also said

“Safety however, is always our first priority. 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.
To minimise the number of trees which require removal, we have sought advice from structural and railway engineers and arboriculture, safety and geotechnical experts. 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.”

So what did the report say that meant that Red had to be immediately removed?

The report released contains the structural, engineering, arboricultural, safety and geotechnical advice. It also contains an additional review of the trees commissioned by the DOT.

But the report is heavy on technical information and light on clear advice about the safety of Red or other trees.

A local with expertise in this area has kindly summarised the report as follows.

Newmarket Station Retaining Wall Rectification Assessment

By a local resident

On behalf of the Newmarket Community Rose Iser under the Freedom from Information laws requested a copy of the report used to justify the decision to remove various trees surrounding Newmarket Station. This note provides a summary of the report that was subsequently provided.

On the 12th June 2020 The Department of Transport released a copy of Newmarket Station Retaining Wall Rectification Assessment dated 9th January 2020. The report has been redacted removing details of cost estimates and names and details of the people responsible for the producing the report.

The report was prepared by Mott MacDonald, consultants engaged by PTV “to provide an assessment in concept of proposed solutions to rectify these retaining walls in accordance with key criteria outlines by PTV.”

The report assesses five options to rectify the existing retaining walls that “are at the end of their useful life and are no longer serviceable”.  The report assesses these options considering seven criteria including safety, cost and tree impact.

However, the report makes no recommendation as to which option should be taken forward leaving this as a matter for PTV’s own assessment.

The Newmarket Community was particularly concerned with proposed removal of these significant trees. It is therefore of interest to note the assessment relies on two arborist reports.   The first of these, Evergreen Contractors (EC) were engaged by MTM “to provide an aboricultural assessment report on existing trees located upside and downside of the Newmarket Station adjacent to the proposed redevelopment of the existing retaining walls.” The report is not dated but EC conducted site inspections in September 2018.

This report noted that many of the trees potentially affected including the River Red Gun and Pepper Corn Trees were protected under existing planning overlays. It provided recommendations for the protection of these trees to be incorporated with the proposed designs. It also recommended removing a number of unprotected trees including the “suckers” from the original poplars and the pittosporums that are regarded as a weed species.

However, in responding to the concerns raised by the community in Februrary, DoT and MTM appear to rely on a second report that was prepared NJR and Associates on the 13th December 2019. This report argued that the previous “assessments do not specifically address the likely impact that renewal of the platform retaining walls will have on the tree(s).” 

This second report makes two important findings. The first is for the removal of the River Red Gum on the basis that it “poses a significant risk to the public, PTV and Metrorail” due to “catastrophic and occasional fatal outcomes created from branch failure”. It is somewhat unclear from this report whether the risk arises from the inherent nature of these trees or due to inappropriate management. The report says:

“This risk is potentially managed, provided management is fully and faithfully implemented regularly. This level of management will not retain the dignity of the tree if it is also managed for the extreme weather events. However, given the history of catastrophic and occasional fatal outcomes from branch failure, albeit in unmanaged park or riverside location, this history has created a public perception, i.e. advice from Government Agencies not to camp under River Red Gums, that such trees are inherently dangerous. Thus it can quite reasonably be argued it is unacceptable to retain the tree. It is my opinion this tree, despite its age and historic significance, is out of place within its location and todays societies expectations of public safety. The tree’s location and the inherent, induced and uncontrollable risks of significant or total tree failure and the potential consequences require this tree to be removed.”

The report concludes the tree “is out of place within its location and today’s societies expectations of public safety.” The second key finding that is Option 5 Existing Wall Rehabilitation is “the best choice” as “there will be minimal impact on any tree, given I recommend the Rover Gum be removed.”

Since the report was prepared it is apparent that the PTV have proceeded with a modified version of the “MTM proposal to construct a new post and plank retaining wall supported by concrete piles in front of the existing wall”.

It can be observed from the work on site that MTM’s proposal has been modified it at least two ways. Firstly, the void between the old and new retaining walls has been backfilled with concrete rather than free-draining material. Secondly, the three significant trees including the River Red Gum and Pepper Corn tree on the southeast corner of station have been retained together with a modification to the design of the retaining wall.

It can also be observed that these trees have since received aboral maintenance.

*****

So does the report confirm that certain trees at Newmarket Station must be removed to ensure the safety of rail users and the local community?

As MVCC said at the time in their report to their Special Meeting of 30 January, the arborist reports don’t categorically state the significant trees cannot be retained, and state that further works should be undertaken.

“Council’s independent arborist has reviewed the reports and outlined that the conclusions reached are not supported by the author’s “…own observations and he has not completed his own due diligence in forming his opinion – he has recommended that a canopy inspection is completed”.

The DOT told us in January there were no options for saving Red. This was not the case – as the report confirms.

Given that the reports include options whereby the trees could be retained, and that Council’s independent arborist’s opinion is that “this tree is a valuable asset int he landscape and poses a negligible risk to rail users”, it’s incredibly relieving to all that sense prevailed.

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