Unley tree canopy campaign branches out

A community engagement campaign has been launched in Unley in a bid to investigate and reverse the area’s longstanding tree canopy decline.

Aug 30, 2023, updated Aug 30, 2023

Almost half the population of Unley have signed up to an online forum expressing their views on the inner south Adelaide suburb’s tree canopy, says Unley Mayor Michael Hewitson.

“We’ve got 17,000 people this time already with their email addresses linked up. Last time we were talking 1000,” he said.

Residents have been asked to register on the council’s participatory democracy site “Shaping Unley”.

“I’m very happy that we’ve got 17,000 connections to email out to and the responses to the survey questions and issues, finding out where the community’s at, is already a big help and way above what we’ve had before,” Hewitson said.

A campaigner for growing and maintaining Unley’s tree canopy, Hewitson submitted a proposal to the state government in May 2022 suggesting that council rates be based on the amount of tree coverage on residents’ properties.

The proposal was submitted to the Minister for Planning, Nick Champion, who then wrote back that he was “not inclined to support”.

“A scheme requiring contributions to be paid until a specified threshold of tree canopy is reached may be difficult to implement and may also give rise to risks in the ongoing operation and management of the scheme,” Champion wrote in November 2022.

The council is aiming to increase the total tree canopy cover in the area to 31 per cent by 2045, which Hewitson said would have a flow-on effect and benefit the community in a number of ways.

“This target recognises the many benefits of trees for urban cooling, character, community health and wellbeing, biodiversity and the liveability and sustainability of our suburbs,” Hewitson said.

For example, he said that the coverage that trees provide can help save on heating and cooling costs.

“Renters aren’t renters because they’re rich, and the renters generally have houses which are not double glazed, not insulated well and certainly don’t have high quality, low-cost-to-run air conditioning,” he said.

“Those renters need solutions more than the people who are either buying their own house or own one.”

Hewitson said there were 540 hectares of trees across the City of Unley in 2008, which decreased to less than 400 hectares by 2020.

“Council has an active tree planting-program on public land. However, 80 per cent of land in Unley is privately owned, and data shows us that the number of trees on private land is declining,” he said.

“If we are going to achieve this target of 31 per cent, we need our community’s help to reverse this trend.

“We want to hear from our residents about their experiences with trees, and to understand if there is anything stopping people increasing tree cover in their gardens and outdoor spaces, or if they’ve had to remove trees in the past for any reason, and what could assist with planting new trees, or growing the trees they already have.”

The Your Say Unley tree canopy survey closes at 5pm on September 7.

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