Save Sherbrooke's Iconic Avenue of Beeches
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Developers Shannon Bennett and Adam Garrison submitted a last minute proposal at an Independent Planning Panel hearing in December 2017 which outlined their intention to remove 13 of the National Trust listed Beech trees that line Sherbrooke Road in order to accommodate driveway and road widening works at the entrance to the Burnham Beeches Estate.
This proposal was vehemently opposed by multiple community members who presented at the Panel hearing, citing the importance of the retention of the trees, of which the property is renowned and derives its name, as they form an iconic part of the Sherbrooke landscape and are of highly significant heritage value. The National Trust and Heritage Victoria also expressed their concerns at the possible removal of these trees due to their significance, and the fact that it is the only Avenue of Copper Beeches on the National Trust’s Significant Tree Register, with only 4 other individual Beech specimens classified in Victoria. This issue has also received much local media attention as a result of the contentious nature of the proposal.
An alternate proposal was presented to the Panel members at the hearing in December, compiled by a Traffic Engineer contracted by Council, which slightly lowered the amount of Beech trees to be removed to approximately 10 trees. This alternate proposal was touted as a 'solution' to the tree Beech issue, despite the high number of Beeches that would still require removal to accommodate this alternate layout.
The Panel members final recommendation was that further investigations be conducted by Council and the developers to establish whether additional alterations could be made to the driveway and road widening layout to potentially increase the amount of Beech trees to be retained - "where possible". The Panel members recommendation included a statement which added that if no solution could be found with regards to the retention of the Beech trees, after these additional investigations had been conducted, then the Council's alternate layout should be implemented, which would still see approximately 10 of the National Trust listed Beeches removed.
No formal investigations have been conducted by the Council and/or the developers regarding possible alternate driveway and road works layouts in order to retain the Beech trees since the Panel hearing in December last year.
A Yarra Ranges Council meeting was conducted on the 27th of March this year at which Councillors voted in favour of allowing the developers joint planning scheme amendment and planning permit application to be forwarded to Planning Minister Richard Wynne's office for final approval. This was despite the fact that no further investigations had taken place, or finalised plans implemented, regarding the driveway and road widening works, and subsequent potential Beech tree removal. The Councillors essentially voted in favour of seeking the Minister's approval first, and then conducting these investigations after the fact if the Minister approves the amendment.
The amendment has now, very recently, been forwarded to the Minister's office by Council. If Minister Wynne chooses to approve the amendment in its current state, he would be signing off on the premise that he is comfortable with the Council and the developers coming to a finalised version of the driveway, road works, and consequent Beech tree removal without the need for him to know what the finalised layout would actually consist of and how many Beech trees would be impacted as a result. He would essentially be putting trust in the Council and the developers to come up with a suitable finalised plan, with faith that they will do their best to retain the Beech trees "where possible"...
There is also a small possibility that the Minister may be hesitant in giving his approval on the amendment at this stage without this important information having been provided and without this issue having been first resolved.
We are of the opinion that the Minister should not sign off on the amendment until further investigations have taken place and a finalised plan, in relation to the Beech trees and road and driveway widening works, is submitted to his office. As opposed to simply putting trust in the developers and Council to make this decision after the fact, which in many ways comes across as a 'cart before the horse' approach to what is a highly contentious and important issue.
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