Update: Friday 26 November
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Mayor of Boroondara, Councillor Jack Wegman, joined Glen Iris residents on Wednesday 17 November to tie a red ribbon around an endangered street tree typical of tens of thousands across the municipality that could be felled or butchered to comply with the Victorian Government’s strict enforcement of clearance zones around power lines.
‘Changes to the Electric Safety Line Clearance Regulations are the most ill-conceived I’ve come across in all my years in local government,’ said Councillor Wegman. ‘It was written by a closed-shop, adopted without consultation directly with councils and has been understandably greeted by residents in emotions ranging from incredulity to outrage.’
To drive home the point, the Mayor joined residents along with Gardiner Ward Councillor Coral Ross and Cotham Ward Councillor David Bloom to mark the tree on Glen Iris Road and Valley Parade with a red distress ribbon. It was representative of 35,000 street trees located beneath power lines in Boroondara that could get the chop if the Victorian Government doesn’t do a rethink.
The Mayor urged other residents to mark endangered trees outside their homes and businesses with red ribbons and urged other metropolitan councils to do the same. ‘At Boroondara we will be happy to supply the ribbons while our stock lasts,’ said Councillor Wegman, adding: ‘I confess that like many who first heard of the power line clearance changes of Energy Safe Victoria, it sounded like a mistake at best and a bad joke at worst.
‘Putting aside the threat to nearly half our 75,000 street trees, it would cost ratepayers more than $2 million to remove trees and carry out new or more severe pruning around power lines. Costs we have not budgeted for. As many as 2,000 trees would be felled, 3,500 severely chopped and 30,000 more under or near powerlines subject to additional pruning.
‘In effect, the Victorian Government wants councils across metropolitan Melbourne to force its residents to pay higher rates so we can butcher their street trees. That’s not going to happen in Boroondara. We won’t be vandalising our street trees,’ said Councillor Wegman.
On top of this, fines of up to $36,000 could be imposed on councils for each instance on non-compliance and $6,000 on homeowners who resist an order to remove or chop a tree on private property.
City of Boroondara called an emergency meeting of the Inner South Metropolitan Mayor’s Forum and the Eastern Region Mayors and CEO’s Forum to challenge the regulations. As a result, the Premier and Members of Parliament of all parties with oversight or portfolio responsibility on the issue were written to. They were asked for a return to the 2005 regulations to apply to urban and low bushfire areas on grounds that:
- there are substantial amenity impacts where established street trees are unnecessarily cut back or removed entirely
- there is a lack of clear justification or evidence for these changes to apply to urban and low fire risk areas
- the significant cost to local communities.
‘The high amenity of street trees was completely ignored in writing the regulations,’ said Councillor Wegman.
‘The removal of trees or severe reduction in tree canopy will reduce shade in streets and the ‘leafy’ character of our neighbourhoods. This will also have a marked effect on property values.'