Arborists, acting under a WorkSafe order, moved in on the park last month removing several mature trees - including ancient Moonah - and lopping the branches of many others in a move that could jeopardise a $17,000 revegetation grant awarded as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.
“It’s stark, and no one thought it was going to get to this point and no one wanted it to get to this point,” Queenscliffe Mayor Ross Ebbels said in response to the scale of the works.
Residents and community groups also voiced outrage, describing the outcome as “carnage” and at odds with the Borough’s Climate Emergency Response Plan (CERP) commitments.
“Maintaining and increasing canopy cover and 'greening' our town is what the Community Emergency Response Plan should be about. This was the platform the community widely accepted and which was endorsed by the councillors,” said three community groups - the Friends of Victoria Park (FoVP), the Queenscliff Environment Forum and the Queenscliffe Community Association - in a letter to The Rip.
“The Park has been cruelly de-limbed and bulldozed beyond comprehension. What the community is left with is a disaster zone of environmental and tree management that will take decades to restore and which potentially questions our town as leaders of any serious and effective climate emergency responses.”
WorkSafe, in May, issued a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) and ordered the park be fenced off after determining several trees posed a risk to the public.
That action was taken despite an unanimous Council motion in March to temporarily halt BoQ-initiated works already underway to remove trees damaged in a major storm event last October, pending further investigation.
It appears likely long-term campers requested WorkSafe’s involvement. The agency’s intervention came within days of them being told - that as a result of the Council motion - 23 camping sites would be removed and others restricted to caravans less than 6.5 metres in length.
It also followed a Save Victoria Park community picnic on 15 May, where attendees and campers clashed over the park’s future.
In the midst of the mayhem, the Plant a Tree for the Queen’s Jublilee Program confirmed an application jointly submitted by the FoVP and the BoQ had been successful in securing $17,000 for park revegetation.
Council has also set aside $40,000 in its 2021/22 budget for replanting and at the time of this publication going to print, was due to meet to discuss how to move forward.
Addressing the June Council meeting, Cr Michael Grout said he regretted to loss of the park's Moonah trees and signalled revegetation would be prioritised.
“I’m mortified to witness the loss of trees and canopy to the park and I acknowledge that we in the borough have not been effective custodians of the surviving Moonahs along this part of our coast. Enabling Moonahs to grow and camping appear to be activities that need some separation and we as a council are going to work to do that,” he said.
Councillor Fleur Hewitt, who moved the original March motion, also endorsed a fast-tracked re-planting program.
“The intention [of the motion] was to try and preserve the significant historic vegetation and tree canopy that were damaged, not just for residents and ratepayers but for the campers and extensive birdlife.
“The motion in particular was raised to give us time to put in place a long term strategy for space into the future,” she said. “The extent of the work is devastating and it was not and it has never been the desired outcome for the site for anyone.”
A BoQ spokesperson was unable to say when the park would re-open to the public.
“Council continues to work closely with an independent arborist and with WorkSafe to balance our high expectations for public safety with opportunities to retain as many trees as possible,” he said.
“Council remains committed to retaining the parkland character of Victoria Park that residents and campers enjoy. Officers are retaining habitat hollows from trimmed or removed trees, and are planning to relocate these within Victoria Park after works are complete.”
Despite the tree removal works, it appeared unlikely Council would reverse its decision to close some camping sites.