Residents celebrate as council backs down from controversial street gardening rules
A South Melbourne community’s bid to continue their much-loved street gardening activities has been upheld after the City of Port Phillip backed down from its restrictive rules.
Turning nature strips into gardens has grown in popularity, particularly over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the increased attraction had raised concerns of public safety, prompting the council to introduce draft guidelines for planting on nature strips.
This included strict clearance distances for planting away from kerbs, driveways, footpaths, and utilities like telecommunication services.
But in a win for residents, councillors voted unanimously to endorse amended guidelines at their August 3 meeting which included no permit or approval being needed for street gardening.
The news of the council’s decision was a huge relief for resident Emma Cutting, who launched a petition last year that attracted 6000 signatures to keep their much-loved activity, which she said had helped build a community.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. To be able to have the choice with restrictions to use that land for something that might be combining accessibility, safety, tree health, with liveability and community and the possibility of increasing biodiversity is just incredible – it’s a huge deal,” she said.
“I’m so proud of sticking to the end; I’m so proud of all the people who helped me.”
Ms Cutting, who founded local community greening initiative the Heart Gardening Project, said the council’s acknowledgement of the community’s love for street gardening meant residents felt valued.
“The residents knew the value of what they had, and it helped people stick with the campaign – and stand up for what they knew was really valuable.”
Ms Cutting, a keen gardener and music teacher by day, said street gardening had many benefits and had helped her overcome chronic fatigue syndrome.
“It’s immensely powerful and it also appeals to 98 per cent of people. It ticks so many boxes so it’s a win-win situation.
“As well as the environment and community, it’s also great for the local economy, it increases positive foot traffic - so people that like community gardens will go there more which in turn can decrease graffiti and things like that.”
Ms Cutting said was still blown away by the council’s decision.
“We’ve been in council for decades, we’ve never heard of a community win like this that’s had so much legislative change, it’s amazing.
“What it has taken to get this result has been insane. It’s taken thousands of locals, I think there were about 600 individual submissions, my 84-page document … and 50 subject matter experts with 20 of them writing letters of support.”
According to a council report, the new guidelines provide “clear direction on how the community can safely garden on grassed nature strips and in street gardens, while ensuring our nature strips remain safe and functional”.
Port Phillip mayor Marcus Pearl said the amended guidelines had struck the “right balance”.
“They act on the community feedback that we’ve heard, and they also balance it nicely with the advice that the officers have provided us,” he said. •
Caption: Resident Emma Cutting is thrilled her neighbourhood can keep their street gardens.
Photo: Cameron Grant