Web_flame-treeI was left with feelings of much disappointment and sadness during and after the South Gippsland Shire Council meeting, July 24, in Council Chamber, Leongatha, regarding the proposed Aldi development. After I was asked to assist in the preservation of Leongatha’s oldest Illawarra Flame Tree, situated on the proposed Aldi Supermarket site in Bruce Street, I had made representation to councillors to consider planning options that would secure both the Aldi proposal and the protection of our 80 to 90 year old significant and heritage listed flame tree.

At the council meeting on July 24, there was no question or debate about the Aldi proposal affecting one of Leongatha’s most significant trees. Councillors unanimously voted to fast-track the Aldi proposal to the point of suggesting that Aldi’s construction should be seven days a week. This was despite an arborist’s report that the flame tree was a healthy, mature specimen, with a long life expectancy. Despite this professional report, councillors denigrated the tree and unanimously sang from the Aldi song book, which highlighted a public feeling that councillors would let nothing stand in the way of Aldi’s proposal. This is not proper planning process, this is winner takes all and council faces a charge of community conflict of interest. If there had been a doctor in the chamber, I don’t believe a heartbeat could be detected. There was a disturbing lack of ticker.

Both Aldi and the council have policies that claim they ensure corporate or community responsibility. It appears that these could be weasel words and can be waived in the self-interest of the highest bidder. The disturbing, likely consequence is that so much of our South Gippsland  heritage is at stake and can be traded for a fist full of dollars. Therefore, so many of South Gippsland’s mature trees and parkland are likely to be euthanized for the false promise of development called progress. A healthy, 80 year old tree has lived one human lifetime and is likely to live at least another. What a wonderful example of their contribution to the sustainability of nature and human wellbeing. “Urban vegetation provides economic and ecological services to society. They are assets which warrant the expenditure of resources, such as labour, energy and water. Such expenditure is not wasted: trees and urban landscapes provide far more economically and ecologically than they use. In any fair calculation, urban trees and landscapes are worth more than they cost,” – Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, University of Melbourne.

Over recent years, I have reason to believe our heritage is now largely in the hands of developers, while the council fails to show leadership to protect significant trees on public or private land. To Mr Aldi, a wealthy, international corporation, please reassure us and show us the colour of your corporate responsibility. Thelma Arnup and I have been encouraged by the wide public support of our flame tree, including, horticulturists, arborists, tree and heritage consultants, doctors of botany and our local newspapers. Mr Aldi, we welcome you to Leongatha, if you act as a trusted corporate citizen and guardian for our botanical icon, flame tree. It is apparent to many that you can redesign the footprint of your development, so that we can have the best possible community outcome, your development and protection of our urban heritage tree scape. Many Aldi customers would have already shopped at a store with provision of car-parking, underneath with a smaller, economical footprint. If this debate does not progress in an innovative, consultative and respective manner, we will consider appeal or direct action.

Richard Lester, Leongatha.