Palm trees cause a stir at Southbank Boulevard

By Sean Car

The first sign of greening at Southbank Boulevard emerged last month with fresh grass laid down out the front of the ABC building, but the installation of a series of palm trees has raised many eyebrows.

Following a report by Southbank News in November last year highlighting the extent of the project’s budget and timing blowouts, calls from locals to bring the project to a quick end by delivering much-needed green space have heightened.

And while the first signs of fresh grass have been widely welcomed, many locals have questioned the decision to plant eight palm trees along the edge of the ABC building, which they claim were absent from the original project renders.

Many took to social media via the Southbank Community Hub Facebook group in December to express their disappointment.

“Hideous. Clearly residents’ opinions aren’t valued in the planning of these projects,” one wrote.

“Very disappointing, especially with some of Boyd Park being taken from us,” another wrote, while many others lamented the loss of established London Plane trees in the area, which the council is phasing out to be replaced with more climate-resistant tree species.

But in response to a query from a local resident to Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, which argued that the project wasn’t contributing to a “greener Melbourne, the project’s principal manager said more trees would be planted in March.

“Some residents have noticed that eight palm trees have been planted in the civic space to date, and these will be complemented by approximately 40 canopy trees which are estimated to be planted in March 2021, which is the commencement of the planting season for trees next year,” the project manager said.

“I can assure you that the design for the civic space to the front of the ABC is very closely aligned to the concept plans and artists’ impressions which were published online, and this will become clearer as further works are completed, and the remaining trees are planted next year.”

In addition to the eight palm trees, the council said that locals could expect to see a mixture of Ginkgo Biloba and Poplar trees planted from March.

According to the council Ginkgo Bilobas are an upright tree with “fan-shaped foliage and brilliant yellow autumn colour” and typically they grow 11 metres tall. Poplars, which typically grow to around 20 metres in height, are a fast-growing species, and are a mid-green during the year with foliage that turns to yellow in autumn.

“As per that presentation which was provided to residents in the Southside Gardens complex, [the] council has worked to ensure that we are retaining trees where possible, and as such the six large London Plane trees adjacent to the footpath within the nature strip between Moore St and Kavanagh St are to be retained,” the project’s manager said.

“While we are able to retain these six large and prominent trees, there are five smaller London Plane trees within the former central median strip which are proposed to be removed in order to allow for the old roadway to be demolished, and the area to be turned into an open space.”

“While it is unfortunate that these trees need to be removed, the development of the open space will see a significant increase in tree numbers, along with an increase in species diversity and biodiversity for the area, which meet the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest and precinct plan targets for tree species and climate readiness.”

While the council estimates a further 50 trees will be planted between Moore and Kavanagh streets as part of the next phase of the project, the project’s manager has assured that no further palms are proposed to be planted.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp and the council’s management are also currently in discussions with the Southbank Residents’ Association regarding a Southbank community meeting in March, to allow locals the chance to discuss a number of important projects such as Southbank Boulevard, Boyd Park and the City Road Master Plan.

While a date is yet to confirmed, the meeting will be established at a local venue which can cater for around 150 people. In addition to addressing current capital works projects in Southbank, the event will provide locals with the chance to identify new potential opportunities for green open space. More details will be announced in the March edition of Southbank News •

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