GREENS MOTION: Urban trees and green open spaces motion passes

Today the Greens' motion calling on the Government to protect our existing urban trees and green open spaces, create healthy and diverse urban forests and reduce hard surfaces across metropolitan Adelaide, was slightly amended and passed with unanimous support in the Legislative Council.


HANSARD TRANSCRIPT

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges the importance of providing South Australians with a diverse range of quality public and private green open spaces and green infrastructure in our urban environments.

2. Recognises that urban trees are critical infrastructure with economic, environmental and social benefits.

3. Notes that increasing the level of tree canopy and green open spaces across metropolitan Adelaide will improve air quality, stormwater absorption, beautify streetscapes and parks, provide habitat for our native wildlife and improve biodiversity.

4. Notes that South Australia is rated as the second most vulnerable state on the heat vulnerability index and that increasing tree canopy and green open spaces would help cool the city by reducing heat island effect.

5. Notes that between 2013 and 2016 average urban tree canopy cover across metropolitan Adelaide dropped by 1.9 per cent and hard surfaces increased by 2.6 per cent.

6. Calls on the government to:

(a) prioritise the protection of existing urban trees and green open spaces; and

(b) develop a comprehensive urban forest plan in collaboration with local government and local communities to create healthy and diverse urban forests across metropolitan Adelaide with the aim of increasing the average tree canopy to 30 per cent by 2045, particularly in those areas identified as being most vulnerable to heat stress.


The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: There is no doubt at all that our urban tree canopy is diminishing. It is in a precarious position and we need to do a lot more about it. There is no doubt that there is a demand in our communities for more green open space and, in certain parts of our metropolitan area, there is a seriously embarrassing lack of green open space.

Although I would like to raise some points in regard to the target set out in this motion, which I will get to shortly, we in the Labor team support this motion and its intent. Labor recognises the importance of trees for their multitude of contributions to human life, to the health of our environment, to the aesthetics of our neighbourhoods, to our ecology supporting plants and animals, to reducing heat in our suburbs, to the livability and desirability of our suburbs. As we know, trees are essential to our existence on this planet as well as to our enjoyment of the lives we have in our time on this earth.

It is shocking to note that, between 2013 and 2016, average urban tree canopy cover across metropolitan Adelaide dropped by 1.9 per cent and hard surfaces increased by 2.6 per cent. That statistic is from the Conservation Council's excellent report, What's Happening to Our Trees, of June last year, which I recommend to members. This stunning decline is a direct result of new developments, largely in our inner metropolitan areas that have featured too much concrete, cut down too many trees and failed to adequately replace what has been lost.

These issues have come up persistently in Labor's community consultation on the Planning and Design Code. We are concerned that measures in the code may not be enough to arrest the decline in tree canopy and green space but we will continue to monitor that. Heat mapping data in our less leafy suburbs, or even when we map the progress of canopy decline in our more leafy suburbs, is quite frightening.

We cannot expect to have cooler neighbourhoods if we are removing trees. To cool our suburbs and experience the benefits of that lower temperature, or at least stop the increase in temperatures, we simply must invest in trees. There is currently a debate around which trees. The injuries to and deaths of people due to limb falls has again sparked debate about the risk trees can pose, and about which are the best trees to be planting in populated areas.

There is certainly a case for better tree selection at the local level to ensure we are getting the benefits of the tree canopy whilst minimising risk. Our shadow minister for planning was pleased to attend the Local Government Association's tree summit just a few weeks ago, and is continuing to work on policy in this area with local government and local communities.

Some solutions to the problem of declining tree canopy and green space will take many years to reach fruition. However, there is one action the government can take today to move in the right direction. As we have just heard, the chamber has repeatedly lamented the fact that the government has chosen to raid the Planning and Development Fund, colloquially known as the Open Space Fund, to pay for public servants to get the long overdue Planning and Design Code up and running.

It has taken tens of millions of dollars from the fund for this purpose—more than $25 million at last count—and this is from a fund that is meant to be paying for councils to plant trees and build new open green spaces in our communities. This is a terrible policy outcome and a matter the Attorney-General could address immediately should she wish to do so.

On the issue of the aim of increasing the average tree canopy to 30 per cent by 2045, this requires further investigation on our part, and our shadow minister is looking at that in detail. However, Labor certainly supports developing a comprehensive plan with local government to address the degreening of our beautiful city. I thank the Hon. Mr Parnell for bringing this important motion, and we join him in his concern about the fate of Adelaide's trees and green spaces. We will be supporting the motion.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I rise to place some remarks on the record in relation to this motion. We have an amendment which, I believe, has been circulated. This is a topic of interest, and I think increasing interest and greater understanding in our community over many years.

In relation to street trees and the selection of trees, I commend the work of the organisation TREENET—I think it was founded by Mr David Lawry OAM, someone I used to have quite a lot to do with in my previous portfolio responsibilities—and the work of the Waite Arboretum, which has been working towards projects to help with tree selection, particularly for South Australia's unique conditions and local environment.

The Green Adelaide Board, also known as Green Adelaide, was established under the government's landscape reform in clear recognition of the very issue put forward in this motion. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that being in nature is critical to our health and wellbeing, particularly for those living in densely populated urban areas or in lower socio-economic areas. Our open spaces and green infrastructure play an essential role in giving people the chance to live healthier lives.

Balancing nature and economic imperatives is a key challenge that is crucial for our population, while providing habitat for biodiversity and helping to adapt to a changing climate. Green Adelaide is tasked to create a cool, green and climate-resilient urban environment, and in so doing drive the greening of metropolitan Adelaide and build on community awareness of the benefits of trees, quality green open space and green infrastructure that is accessible to all.

Green Adelaide's focus on a green urban environment will be achieved through on-ground implementation of programs supported by policy development, research, education and communications in partnership with the community, government and non-government bodies. Green Adelaide is currently preparing its five-year regional landscape plan, which will undergo broad public consultation in the coming months. This plan will include a number of activities that will support the retention and enhancement of the urban tree canopy, including:

partnering with local government on urban heat island mapping to identify priority areas for greening, green infrastructure and water-sensitive urban design;

particular attention being paid to promoting access to quality green open space through a process of prioritisation based on the current level of tree canopy and urban heat, with the goal of maximising social benefit; and

influencing new buildings and suburb designs to support an urban landscape that is cooler and that has increased tree canopy cover and biodiversity habitat.

The board is also focused on the goal of enhancing protections for mature urban trees, as well as partnering with agencies across the state government to ensure that quality green open space is a shared priority, contributing to the Greener Neighbourhoods Grants program, which contributes to progress towards the target in the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide of increasing urban green cover by 20 per cent to 2045. If achieved, this increase will bring many of Adelaide's urban local government areas above or close to a figure of 30 per cent tree canopy.

These grants support local councils to combat the loss of canopy cover seen across metropolitan Adelaide between 2013 and 2016, which has been referred to by previous speakers. In the last 18 months over $1.6 million of funding has been awarded to support projects involving the planting of over 8,000 trees, implementing a nature education program, which builds a strong connection between urban residence and their natural environment, supporting Adelaide to become a national parks city and exploring global initiatives relevant to urban ecology and green cities.

There are a number of areas in the new planning and design code where there may be a potential to support better urban tree canopy outcomes, including:

strengthening greening policies for minor infill developments, which could include increasing the minimum soft landscaping area requirements and introducing stronger incentives for maintaining existing trees;

further consideration of how significant trees are protected. Retaining existing mature trees is a crucial factor in increasing Adelaide's canopy cover. Green Adelaide seeks to support the state's planning division and local governments to improve protections for significant trees to maintain as many existing trees as possible;

reflecting the value of native vegetation within metropolitan Adelaide to increase biodiversity benefits. Green Adelaide's commends the commission on the introduction of the Native Vegetation and Significant Native Vegetation Overlays in the phase 2 code, which will significantly improve the interaction between the planning system and native vegetation legislation.

A practical greening strategy subgroup has been established under Green Adelaide to lead the investigation of how to prioritise and progress the greening of our city to achieve outcomes such as mitigation of urban heat, enhancing biodiversity and contributing to social happiness, health and wellbeing.

Green Adelaide has also made a submission to the Natural Resources Committee of parliament, to the inquiry on the benefits, opportunities and challenges in relation to urban green spaces, and the allocation of resources to retain and increase urban green spaces for their multiple environmental, social and economic benefits. This submission details policy directions by Green Adelaide and can be found on the Natural Resource Committee of the parliament's website.

Green Adelaide is well on its way to prioritise the protection of existing urban trees and open spaces, and to work with local communities and local government to green the metropolitan area. The government agrees with most of the motion and it is consistent with the remit of the newly-established Green Adelaide board. However, we are seeking to amend part of the motion, such amendment having been distributed to honourable members. I therefore move to amend paragraph 6(b) of the motion to read:

Develop a comprehensive strategy to increase tree canopy and reduce hard surfaces (led by Green Adelaide) in collaboration with local government and local communities to create healthy and diverse urban forests across metropolitan Adelaide with the aim to, at a minimum, meet the urban green cover targets of the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide along with a particular focus on areas identified as being most vulnerable to heat stress.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I am not listed as a speaker here, but I want to make some comments and, firstly, to commend the honourable member for his motion. Recently we were at a round table conference involving local government representatives and Green Adelaide, where they outlined their strategic five-year plan. It was quite impressive what they intend to do. I think they have also acknowledged that there is some debate in the community currently regarding trees, the placement of trees and trees that can be considered dangerous, where they are dropping limbs. That was probably part of the reason we had that meeting: because there have been expressions of concern over the types of trees that are in various areas, particularly in the city of Adelaide.

I note that there was a motion recently by Councillor Alex Hyde, I think it was, who called for the removal of gum trees that had been planted in the middle of one of the city's streets. That was defeated. I tended to agree. It is one of the few times that I would agree with councillor Hyde in something that he has put up. It is inconceivable to me why you would want to plant these types of trees in the middle of a road. When they grow to their height within 15 or 20 years, they could be considered a danger.

I note that the report looked at this, and it was going to consider the types of species that should be planted in our communities. I think they also expressed that there would be a need to work collaboratively with all groups, and one of their recommendations was the appointment of an independent tree advisory board to look at the implementation of these policies. I think the debate also centred on the legal implications that would face councils, particularly under some aspects of the act, and that they would need to take into account the aesthetics, the use of a road, the impact it would have on road safety, etc.

In closing, as the honourable member has pointed out, I think tree canopy is extremely important and we do need to enhance it and grow it. At the same time, I think the debate also needs to take into account the types of trees that we are growing in our community. I was also pleased to attend a meeting with the City of Burnside that showed me the data that they have on their trees. They have something like 50,000 in their area, and each one of them is documented.

They have data on each one of their trees. They have a number of staff who work on that program. Interestingly enough, they also have a scheme in which the council will pay individual home owners up to an amount of $2,000 if there are issues with trees that need to be pruned or moved or whatever, or pruned and maintained. It is a council that has shown some innovation in this particular area. With that, I would like to say that SA-Best supports the motion.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I will sum up very briefly. I thank all honourable members who have spoken. Everyone is supporting the motion, and that is good to see. I also note that I will be supporting the amendment that the Hon. Michelle Lensink has tabled. I know that on a private members' day, when we are dealing with private members' motions, the usual way it goes is that a motion has as its final paragraph, 'The council condemns the government' to which the government puts in an amendment saying, 'The council congratulates the government'. But this was not a gotcha moment; it is not a gotcha motion at all. It is basically seeking to put on the parliamentary record what we all agree, and that is that tree canopy in the urban area is important.

The main changes that are made by the Liberal amendment include removing the reference to the 30 per cent by 2045 and includes a reference to the 30-year plan. That is where the numbers come from, so I think it causes no great harm. It is saying it in a different way. The motion also recognises that at present Green Adelaide is the lead agency, so there is no difficulty with naming them. I think the amendment does no harm. It clarifies, and if it gets the government on board then that is a good thing as well. I am very grateful that this motion will pass unopposed today.


Proposed Government Amendment:

Amend 

6. Calls on the government to:

(a) prioritise the protection of existing urban trees and green open spaces; and

(b) develop a comprehensive urban forest plan in collaboration with local government and local communities to create healthy and diverse urban forests across metropolitan Adelaide with the aim of increasing the average tree canopy to 30 per cent by 2045, particularly in those areas identified as being most vulnerable to heat stress.

with 

6. Calls on the government to:

(a) prioritise the protection of existing urban trees and green open spaces; and

(b) develop a comprehensive strategy to increase tree canopy and reduce hard surfaces (led by Green Adelaide) in collaboration with local government and local communities to create healthy and diverse urban forests across metropolitan Adelaide with the aim to, at a minimum, meet the urban green coer targets of 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide along with a particular focus on areas identified as being most vulnerable to heat stress.

Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.