His comments coincide with plans by NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes to ask councils for “big and small” ideas to increase canopy cover to 40 per cent across Sydney.
While councils were largely responsible for managing trees on a site-by-site basis, the minister said he expected any application to remove trees “would see a greater number of trees planted in their place”.
In addition to $5 million in grants announced last year, Mr Stokes is expected to announce on Thursday a further $10 million in “greening our city” grants to councils that plant more trees on streets, parks and plazas, particularly in areas with low canopy. Another $2.5 million in grants will be awarded to projects using trees and greenery to reduce the impact of climate change.
Dr Pfautsch said he supported the Premier’s priority to increase the urban canopy by planting 1 million trees by 2022 and 5 million by 2030.
The “Greening our City” plan notes that valuable green infrastructure in eastern Sydney is located on private land, such as golf courses.
But more needed to be done to protect existing trees or transplant them, Dr Pfautsch said. “We don’t have the time; it is hot now and we can’t wait until 2120 for new trees to grow.”
His research showed streets in Parramatta, Cumberland and Campbelltown with a 30 per cent canopy experienced fewer days of heatwaves, and could be 10 degrees cooler. Urban forests cooled local neighbourhoods and acted as buffers against wind.
With climate change, he said it was unclear whether newly planted trees would ever grow as much as those planted when the weather was not as hot and dry.
A spokesperson for Woollahra Council said it was “premature” to say the trees would be removed because the club’s development application was still under consideration. The council had requested further information, and it had engaged a consulting arborist to provide advice.
The council’s policies say trees removed must be replaced with something similar.
Even before the development application was lodged, the council was developing new urban canopy controls.
The Royal Sydney Golf Club, a 57-hectare invitation-only private club, wouldn’t respond to specific questions. In a letter to neighbours, it said the plans would result in a “visually stunning landscape” that would create a “heathland environment” on the site bordered by O’Sullivan Road in Bellevue Hill and Old South Head Road, Bondi.
The removal of trees would also provide 64 per cent more fairway space and wider playing corridors, golf magazines reported.
The club’s DA details the removal of between 569 and 660 trees out of a total of 2597. It proposes to plant 703 new shrubs and trees, a net growth in numbers. New plantings will include 104 species ranging from red bloodwoods and wax flowers to acacias. Critics say many of the new species have shorter lives than existing flora, and won’t flourish in the area.
A hole-by-hole breakdown in the DA reveals nearly 400 paperbarks could get the chop. A 20-metre high Port Jackson fig on the first hole identified for removal has a life expectancy of more than 50 years.
More than 100 objections to the DA have been submitted, and a Facebook site Save The Trees Rose Bay is campaigning against the proposal.
Some dispute the club’s claim it would restore the area to a pre-Captain Cook landscape. The council’s biodiversity strategy described it as an estuarine foreshore, with low swampy areas and exposed coastal areas where many paperbarks flourished.
A spokesperson from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the NSW government didn’t have the powers to intervene. Aspects of the development had been referred to government agencies, including Sydney Water and NSW Heritage as a routine part of the assessment.
Julie Power is a senior reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.