Seriously, Greener Places
TEC has responded to the state government’s new “Greener Places” draft policy with a detailed 33 page submission which interrogates the potential to meet the significant public health and urban planning challenges facing the greater metropolitan area over the next 50 years.
The submission’s 32 recommendations, according to TEC’s director Jeff Angel, identify a worrying lack of detail and clarity…
While acknowledging that “Greener Places” is a step in the right direction, Mr Angel said “it is disturbingly vague as to legal protections around existing green spaces, lacks actionable targets, and does not allocate specific amounts of money to new green spaces projects. The government will have to overcome many challenges to bring its vision into reality.”
However, Mr Angel added that TEC ”is not giving up despite the recent loss of significant bush and parklands across Sydney. From the dozens of community groups which have joined our SOS Green Spaces campaign network, we know that the grassroots are behind us, and we will campaign all the harder in the next 12 months.
“Green spaces are an investment in people’s health and environmental sustainability and should be afforded priority over development.”
While a rapidly rising population is undoubtedly increasing the pressure on the city’s traditional boundaries, TEC has already responded to the corresponding environment and planning crisis by working with highly motivated communities in Western and Northern Sydney, including local groups campaigning to save the Mount Gilead heritage lands, the last wild koala population in Appin, and bushland in the Hornsby Shire. For more information check out our SOS Green Spaces campaign page.
So what is the Greener Places draft policy?
In November 2017, the NSW state government made an announcement about the Greener Places draft policy, promising that the Office of Open Space and Parklands, led by Commissioner Fiona Morrison, would increase the urban tree canopy of Sydney from approximately 16 per cent to 40 per cent; and the government would develop the green grid or parks and open spaces.
Many commentators construed it as a direct response to community unrest about the inordinate number of trees, parks and bushland being cleared across the metropolitan area to make way for housing and infrastructure development.
Angst over the rapidly changing character, appearance and liveability of Sydney was bubbling up in resident action groups – some of which had grown more militant the less the government listened to their concerns.
But the loss of Sydney’s tree canopy – including hundreds of centennial trees in some suburbs - at a time when local councils were scrambling to implement climate change mitigation strategies to counteract both heat island effect and massive drains on state power grids all over Australia, wasn’t just a PR disaster for the NSW state government.
The consensus amongst town planners, scientists and environmentalists clearly indicated that if Sydney wanted to remain a top financial and liveable capital, green spaces for the workers, the tourists, and young families were going to have to become a health and prosperity priority - instead of the hastily erected “priority precincts” the Berejiklian government was moving fast to create by bulldozing leafy heritage suburbs across the city, touting hi-rise high density housing as the answer to Sydney’s economic imperatives.
While the towering new precincts were notable chiefly for their concrete lack of essential public amenities, including green space and visual appeal, the impact of large scale development on Sydney’s biodiversity was already affecting the city’s air and water quality, let alone its iconic native species such as the koala and other less photogenic flora and fauna nevertheless considered essential building blocks of the area’s ecosystems – frogs, fungi, pollinators and fertilisers.
“Greening Sydney? Are they serious?” wrote popular Fairfax columnist Elizabeth Farrelly in December.
“This is a state government that chops nine hectares of tree canopy for its jack-booted light rail, that carves up parks for motorways and stadiums, that rips up well-used cycleways, that has destroyed 7000 trees for the filthy and backwards WestConnex with thousands more to come for ugly road-widenings from St Peters to Centennial Park, that consistently prioritises coal over agriculture and has legislated to facilitate broadscale land clearing across the state.”
“We know that the Urban Heat Island effect can make cities 13 degrees hotter than elsewhere,” she continued, “and this will only get worse. We know that tree-cover is our best weapon in this, and we could easily replicate such well-tempered housing across Sydney.”
Farrelly was not alone in deeming the government’s commitment to “greener places” as “breathtaking hypocrisy”.
And yet as Jeff Angel pointed out during a series of well attended SOS Green Spaces community forums late last year, “this draft policy gives us a yardstick we can work with, and a vision we can hold to account.
“Rest assured that is just what TEC, working with our environment allies, is determined to do!”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Join our SOS Green Spaces campaign!