The sudden removal of scores of trees on a development site in Sydney's southwest has triggered a wave of public outrage, with community members up in arms over the "heartbreaking" act.
The region is undergoing an unprecedented period of urbanisation with vast green spaces of the Campbelltown and Wollondilly local government areas making way for thousands of affordable homes on the city's outskirts amid a highly-publicised property boom.
A strip of trees and bushes on Dahua's Menangle Park development, which will bring more than 4000 homes to the area, was removed this week, sparking anger from locals who fear ongoing development will have a lasting impact on the area's wildlife and the environment.
Local businessman Tim Pickles shared damning before-and-after photos of the trees, with just a pile of branches and mulch all to show for what he says was vegetation dating back more than 100 years.
"There's no consideration of what's growing there now... they come in and just knock everything down and build their estates. It's a crime," he told Yahoo News Australia.
Mr Pickles said the area of about 70 trees could have easily been incorporated into the estate to be enjoyed by residents, and at the same time preserving the habitat of multiple bird species and other animals.
"There's heaps of birds because the trees are so old they've got hollows in them and it takes all these years for the trees to get them," he said.
Local wildlife rescuer and conservationist Ricardo Lonza, who was named Campbelltown's Citizen of the Year in 2019, told Yahoo News while several species of birds were homed in the trees, koalas, wombats and possums had all been spotted near the site.
"Development should not mean destruction of their homes to make ours," he said.
"Mature trees should be protected, not destroyed and replaced with saplings."
Mr Lonza said governments' promises to protect the wildlife habitat in the area often appeared to be all talk.
Mr Pickles agreed growing new trees to offset the lost ones simply did not cut it.
He argued that simply putting a pathway through the area of trees would allow for new residents to enjoy the wildlife and nature, and make it "a more desirable place to live".
"Someone has to do something, this is not just happening here but all over Australia," he said.
Photos of the removed trees began to spread among the community this week, triggering a wave of furious comments from locals, many of whom described it as "heartbreaking".
"Absolutely no understanding in how nature works, and works with us," one person said.
Local MPs join chorus of criticism
Federal Labor MP for the area Dr Mike Freelander called the removal of the trees a "complete failure of government".
"It’s unbelievable that this is happening in this day and age," he said on Facebook.
State Labor MP Greg Warren, Member for Campbelltown, said it was "wrong in every way".
Mr Freelander said local councils have little control over such major developments and criticised the NSW government for giving developers "carte blanche to do what they want".
However the Department of Planning and Environment told Yahoo the management of trees and vegetation for the project was council's responsibility.
Council responds to community anger
Campbelltown City Council Director City Development Jim Baldwin told Yahoo News Australia all development applications are dealt with in accordance to NSW planning legislation provisions and significant efforts had gone into preserving trees and wildlife habitat.
“As a condition of the subject DA approval, the applicant was required to comply with the relevant NSW legislation and offset the loss of tree hollows with the installation of salvaged hollows and nest boxes in ecologically significant areas," he said.
"Biodiversity offsets for the removed trees are managed under the NSW Biodiversity Offset Scheme.
“Council strongly considers the biodiversity impact of all planning proposals and as part of its approval for the Menangle Park Planning Proposal, required the developer to increase ecological protections across the site, including more than a hectare of additional parkland to protect critically endangered vegetation.”
Developer Dahua has been contacted for comment over the trees' removal.
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