I was horrified at comments made by Councillor Stephanie Proud at the City of Stirling Planning and Development Committee meeting on the 12thof November, around the proposed Retirement Complex development at 17 Angelico Street in Woodlands;
David Barnao the property consultant on the project had just given a 3 minute presentation in defence of their proposed plans. He explained to the council that his clients, the Dominican Fathers, had purchased the property 50 years ago and now wanted to build a new retirement complex. He went on to say that his clients had opted to be as sympathetic as possible with design to fit in with the local community and the character of the area. They initially assessed the heavily vegetated lot and have resolved to keep all of the endangered Tuarts except one that is termite infested (it must be noted that many developers in the City of Stirling just clear lots, level them off and then submit their building plans for approval, to avoid any annoying complications or complaints around removing trees). They then designed and located the building around those trees. Under the applicable density regulations adopted by the City of Stirling, they are entitled to build 83 units on the site, but they are only requesting to build 49. Minimising the foot print to retain the trees, means the building needs to be a bit higher. Apparently they originally requested to build 4 storeys on a partly submerged basement (under 5 floors), but they have now reduced the request to 3 floors with a deeper basement (less than 4 storeys) to appease local residents.
When Mr Barnao had finished speaking Stephanie Proud asked him in an aggressive manner, “Are you aware that the City of Stirling has NO tree protection laws on private land? What is to stop you from flattening the lot?” Then something to the effect, “Are you aware that some residents would prefer that you flatten the lot and reduce the height of building”?
A local resident group spokes person, Margaret Delane, had also given a presentation at the meeting, but against the development. Margaret expressed resident’s concerns about the height of the building. She did not mentioned that some residents would prefer the lot to be cleared so the building could be lowered and spread out across the site. However, the developers have been asked to do this by some residents and it seems Councillor Proud is acting on their behalf to try and make it happen. Surely the wider community in Woodlands would not agree with this?
Perhaps Councillor Proud and this small group of residents haven’t recognised that we live in an extremely hot dry climate and are unaware that trees, cool the air, cool the ground, encourage rainfall and their shade also helps prevent moisture evaporating from the soil. Hard surfaces like roads, pavement, concrete, brick walls and dark tiled roofs absorb heat during the day and radiate heat at night. This is called the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’. A Town Planner recently recorded ground temperatures on a 31 degree day at 3pm and found the pavement under the shade of the trees was 31 degrees, the pavement in the full sun was 60 degrees (and the artificial turf was 70 degrees). Thermal imaging clearly shows green leafy suburbs are cooler. The number of trees in an area have been clearly linked to the number of death and hospital admissions in Australian heatwaves.
Shade from large trees protecting buildings from the hot sun can reduce air-conditioning requirements substantially. As a stark warning, be aware that the State Government is currently considering a special mandatory switches for all houses that would shut down air-conditioning units if the grid gets overloaded on hot days. Given that the grid is barely coping in summer as it is, imagine the problems going forward if our population doubles? But with scant regard to common sense we are creating treeless air-conditioning dependent suburbs. Here in Perth, more so than many other cities in the world, we need to retain and plant as many urban trees as possible to help control temperatures.
If this isn’t enough to convince you that we need to retain our trees, they also filter pollution from the air, asthma levels are lower in suburbs with lots of trees. Green treed areas also improve our mental and physical health according to many studies. For the ardent biophobics out there who still aren’t convinced, they also increase property values? The most expensive visually pleasing suburbs in Perth are the ‘leafy suburbs’ and Woodlands is one of them. Woodlands wouldn’t be Woodlands without its beautiful mature trees and leafy character.
Some developers like the ones in this case are trying to do the right thing and retain as many trees as possible. According to one of Perth’s leading urban planner Dr Linely Lutton, this is very positive and it is called “optimising rather than maximising a development”. The end result is usually a far more attractive than a crammed in treeless second rate job. Perth people have to understand that whether we like it or not our population is growing rapidly and we have to get use to the fact that we are going to have to go up higher. This is happening all over Perth. This obviously does not mean that developers can as high as they like, wherever they like. Clearly there must be restriction and rules to prevent ugly overly tall buildings being stuck in inappropriate places.
It must be recognised that when apartment buildings are surrounded by large trees they blend in to the street far better and act to increase privacy. This is a quality building, it is not overly high and it’s appearance will be softened by very large trees, surely this would be far better aesthetically than an unconcealed two storey building covering far more of the site? Flattering the lot is totally contrary to all modern urban design aspirations and principals. It must also be pointed out that this proposed building will be 50m from the nearest house. The people of Angelico Street should spare a thought for residents next to Churchlands Senior High School who have been unsuccessful in trying to stop a 9m high 700 student classroom block being built 4 meters from their children’s bedrooms (3 meters from their fence).
Many seniors feel safer in apartments, they like to be up off street level for security reasons and may also like to be surrounded by trees and birds. For older Woodlands residents who don’t want to leave this lovely leafy area, this would be a lovely place to live. Perhaps residents should have a think about where they are going to live in their twilight years? Because inevitably many will end up in retirement villages too and let me warn you, some of them are horrendous urban heat sinks.
It is time for all Perth people to wake up and start valuing trees. We simply cannot afford to continue to turn Perth into a sprawling treeless sea of air-conditioning dependent one and two story buildings. It is madness.
Woodlands residents should be aware that a decision will be made on this development at the Council Meeting on Tuesday the 19th of November which starts at 7pm.
by Leisha Jack