Comment based on articles by Alice Higgins, The Advertiser, Dec 26, 2012, and Adelaide Now, Jan 5 2013.
We expect elected governments to be visionary but practical; pro creative-development but safe-guarding of irreplaceable heritage items; heeding of public opinion, but unbending to opposition to sound decision-making.
The White Cedar story
In the past South Australia’s Labor government has been repeatedly frustrated by stubborn anti-development opposition from the Adelaide City Council.
The Development Assessment Commission (DAC) is an independent statutory body made up of seven members appointed by the Governor of South Australia set up ostensibly as a “circuit-breaker” in situations of conflict.
When the Adelaide City Council opposed felling twenty-seven white cedar trees lining a pathway between Pennington Terrace and the Adelaide Oval Entrance to make way for fresh landscaping, the government leapt into action to overcome the stalemate.
For the first time the Development Assessment Commission was called upon to adjudicate an issue and not surprisingly it ruled in the government’s favour December 21. Despite it being in the middle of the holiday period, and a day of extreme 45* heat the government acted to pre-empt any public outcry. Contractors with their heavy equipment soon demolished the path and trees.
Some observers may consider the precipitate action more vengeful than smart. It was scarcely a critical issue, but one which has stirred outrage amongst the more environmentally concerned members of the Adelaide City Council, and amongst members of the Adelaide Parklands Preservation Association.
The trees and path were established in 1907, and had been granted government approved protection by the council’s community land management plan, to preserve their longevity. There was every expectation that this pedestrian avenue would not be sacrificed.
An arborist’s report used by the Infrastructure Minister Pat Conlon to justify the axing of the trees, claimed that the avenue was subject to flooding, and that 19 of the 27 trees would die within a decade. Adelaide MP Rachel Sanderson has requested a copy of the report without success.
White Cedars – Thuja occidentalis
The botanical name for White Cedar is Thuja occidentalis. They are conifers, and in particular they are North American Cedars, but were once native to Europe. The title Thuja was coined by an ancient botanist Theophrastus, (371-286 BCE) who was a pupil of Aristotle. The name is taken from the resinous, fragrant character of the wood, which is white in colour; hence the name “white cedar”.
They are extremely slow-growing, reaching 40ft in height after 50 years on good sites. Contrary to the arborist’s view, they can adapt to saturated soil with a shallow root system. In fact they prefer seepage areas. They have a life expectancy which can exceed 800 years. Early explorers used the vitamin C rich leaves to treat scurvy. The timber is resistant to decay and popular for products which come into contact with water and soil, eg posts, boats, shingles, and was popular for making log-cabins.
Certainly they are trees of great interest, and any landscaping designer worth his or her salt could have incorporated, and made a feature of the pedestrian avenue. At the very least, they could have retained part of the avenue, or transplanted some trees to create a stand in a more convenient place. But this is all of academic interest now.
Has the State government stopped listening?
The government may well consider that the issue will soon die. They are probably right but there has been enough public disquiet to increase the perception that the government has stopped listening, and is too arrogant to bend to even soundly reasoned arguments. They appear too certain of their rightness to be able to compromise.
A far more important issue for the government will be the cost of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital within the train-tracks of the north-western parklands. It is not just the cost of the building, but the escalating cost of advanced new medical equipment, whilst discarding still serviceable old buildings and equipment.
The government has pushed ahead with the re-development inspite of vocal opposition from medical staff, but is now assiduously looking to lift taxes to meet the mounting cost. The Adelaide Oval and the Adelaide Hospital re-developments may be a visionary but is the financial burden too great for an ageing population?