The removal of the much-loved pine trees next to the Black Hill pool has understandably alarmed many.
Over 500 people, including myself, have signed the petition calling for the trees to be saved. Yet my own view is that pine trees are a weed species and should be removed and replaced with Indigenous species. So why did I sign the petition? Because it calls for proper consultation.
City of Ballarat's inability to engage in meaningful consultation with their employers - the community - is baffling.
If we're lucky, they'll put something up on mySay without notifying community stakeholders, but in this case there's been nothing. Instead, their opening move was to announce the trees' removal as a done thing.
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It's blindingly clear the pines have significant landscape value, and the people in council responsible for such matters would have to be incompetent to not know that it is usually the case that people living near such significant stands of trees often love them with a passion.
To remove these trees without first informing and discussing with the community has predictably resulted in an outcry that has forced council to do what they should have done anyway by seeking independent evidence that their safety concerns were warranted.
It's been my experience that City of Ballarat reacts to community concerns as complaints, treating them as spot fires that need to be put out as quickly as possible.
The outcomes are ad hoc, with spontaneous solutions that appear to have no connection to any overall plan, and more importantly, the community is left feeling disaffected.
It seems to me there is a high level of dissatisfaction with council despite the colourful hoopla they feed us in My Ballarat, and when they treat us like this, no wonder.
The September 6 article in The Courier ("City of Ballarat says pine plantations across the shire are being assessed") says the independent arborist's report has now been received, but provides no details.
Hopefully, the details will be shared soon, as anyone with only basic arboreal knowledge can see there are trees in Ballarat that are much more dangerous.
The pines near Black Hill pool appear to have very few dead limbs, while many in Black Hill Reserve do. In fact, the 2011 arborist's report stated clearly that all the pine trees along the Sim Street entrance were "in the senescent stage of their life cycle. ... Many of these trees exhibited minor to advanced symptoms of senescence...".
Across the reserve, the report refers to the pine trees as the "worst weed species", a "noxious weed species", and "the reserve's most invasive weed species", arguing only a "short window of opportunity exists within the next five years to begin a significant tree removal and replacement program".
Yet very little was done, despite the frequent visitors using the Sim Street entrance, and the reserve now being criss-crossed with bike trails.
I welcome the news in the September 1 media release that the trees, if removed, will be replaced with Indigenous bush planted with the involvement of the local community, an approach that I know will help to build strong attachment with the outcome, provided the community liaison is done sensitively, and the support from council is enthusiastic.
I also welcome the news in the September 6 article that council is "currently in the process of assessing other pine plantations in the municipality".
Let's hope they've learnt from their mistakes and will proceed in a manner that is sensitive to the love we all have for the trees in our neighbourhoods.
Neil Huybregts, President, Friends of Black Hill Reserve
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