More than 100 years ago, a revolutionary town planner named Richard Stanton took to the slopes beside Iron Cove and shaped the world's first garden suburb.
Key to the appeal of the new suburb—named Haberfield in honour of Stanton's wife—was the beautiful gardens, stunning architecture and peaceful tree-lined streets that it promised. The streets were named after the fathers of federation, including Deakin, Barton and Kingston. For his suburb, Stanton did something new and extraordinary; he planted trees to provide shade in the summer and wildlife habitat, and to connect nature to the heart of the city.
This was the "City Beautiful Movement" in action. It was a living example of the peaceful and equitable suburbs that would represent the new Australia of the twentieth century. The suburb has evolved for more than 100 years, always maintaining its charm while accommodating new-fangled technology such as electricity and cars.
For all that time, Haberfield's trees have stood strong and proud, a reminder of the ideals that make Haberfield unique.
Fast forward to 2016, and Haberfield's trees are facing a dual threat. At one end, the historic fig trees are being ripped up for WestConnex, and at the other, in what locals are dubbing the "Haberfield Chainsaw Massacre", trees are being butchered by Ausgrid's pruning. This is not limited to Haberfield. As members know, this is a common problem across New South Wales. On streets from Ballina to Bermagui, from Moree to Merimbula, and in each and every suburb across Sydney, electricity providers are tearing holes in mature trees to make way for powerlines, often leaving a few branches on either side and not much more.
The inner west has been hit hardest in the latest round of pruning—Annandale, Leichhardt and Haberfield have seen the most brutal pruning.
Like most New South Wales residents, I appreciate that trees planted under powerlines must be pruned periodically to ensure the provision of safe and dependable services to our businesses and homes.
However, like most residents, I am often shocked and saddened by the extent of the pruning undertaken and the long-term damage being done. While we understand that pruning must be done, communities want to know that it is done appropriately and with care.
We all know that some trees have significance to the wider community, whether it is because of their age, their connection to history, or, as in this case, because of the ideals that they represent. Haberfield is the garden suburb and we want it to be protected.
Each and every tree in Haberfield has historical significance. That is recognised by the community, but it is also recognised legally because the entire suburb is a heritage conservation area. Accordingly, the work undertaken by Ausgrid must be done according to Industry Safety Steering Committee guidelines, known as the ISSC-3 Guidelines.
These guidelines were painstakingly negotiated with biologists, heritage experts and engineers over many years, but are now seemingly being ignored. Under these guidelines, Ausgrid is required to put in place a tree management plan in respect of significant trees. It is also required to consult with the local community and the local council, and to consider alternatives to lopping trees, such as wire bundling and undergrounding. None of that has occurred.
Haberfield looks as though it has been hit by a cyclone. According to local residents, the latest round of pruning is more brutal than any previous exercise.
For those who that doubt that, I have an image of one tree that has had its branches hacked almost to the trunk leaving it lopsided. Other trees, including one on private property, have had their branches removed arbitrarily. I have another image showing a tree standing beside an electrical pole and it is difficult to tell which is the tree and which is the pole. I also have an image of a tree that has been reduced to a trunk and a single branch, and for good measure it has also been cut in half.
Members will understand why residents are furious.
One woman left her home one morning and when she returned she found that the beautiful mature tree at the front of her house had been destroyed by pruning. She was devastated, having lost one of the things she loved most about her neighbourhood.
Some dismiss this as some kind of inner-city-only issue. It is not; it is happening in suburbs across our city.
Trees are a vital part of liveable cities because they reduce the effect of heat islands and they cool our streets. They also clean our air, combat greenhouse gases and provide wildlife habitats. While cities around the world are working to grow their urban canopies, New South Wales is decimating its heritage trees.
We must act now to protect our trees, and we must respect our communities by ensuring that tree pruning is done in accordance with the guidelines designed to preserve them. That is the appropriate approach we should take to our environment.
Haberfield residents and people across the inner west want the Minister to act now to stop this destruction by Ausgrid.
He must do better to protect and respect our suburbs.