"It is not like council officers are evil. It is not like Brisbane City Council are anti-tree, they clearly don't value trees and green spaces as much as they value creating road spaces for cars." - Jonathan Sri, councillor for Gabba Ward.
The loss of five fig trees may not seem like much, six if you count the dieback in one of the fig trees left to rot, but to replace these with bitumen and concrete does signal a malaise. It does not surprise that deadly pathogen Phytophthora has found it’s way into a small stand of trees that line one of the busiest roads in Brisbane.
Brisbane City Council has announced changes to the gateway to Brisbane’s Southside to accommodate the daily passage of 48,000 cars and trucks through the Queensland cultural centre precinct at the intersection of Grey and Peel Streets. Arts Qld advises that the changes are part of the Brisbane Metro. The express purpose of the Brisbane Metro is to provide better public transport to the cultural centre and points south and north of the Brisbane river. So why encourage more cars into Stanley Place’ (since most of the cars are southbound along Merivale Street and nortbound over the Grey Street Bridge)?
“The works include increase vehicle storage capacity and extending the length of the right turn pocket on Grey Street northbound, and repositioning the in-island right turn storage to align with the car park exit.“
Work commenced on Sunday 10th May 2020 but changes were already been marked out without consultation with the local councillor or public.
I spoke with the owner of the space, Arts Queensland, but they were unable to respond to my questions by COB on Friday 8th May referring me to the Brisbane Metro Project Team.
My questions were:
1. What is the strategy behind the removal of the five fig trees to put in new car lanes?
2. How much will it cost?
3. How does this improve greenscaping used to provide a gateway to South Brisbane?
4. How do these changes fit in with the stated purpose of the Brisbane Metro to improve public access to the Cultural Centre?
5. Who are the stakeholders in the changes being made?
6. Why hasn’t there been any public consultation?
These are the answers received from council just now:
MEDIA RESPONSE: Council spokesman
Brisbane City Council is investing $5 million in four intersection upgrades as part of Brisbane Metro early works to ensure our road network can handle any changed traffic conditions when Victoria Bridge is transformed into a green bridge.
The final intersection upgrade to be completed is the $2.9 million upgrade to the Stanley Place, Peel and Grey streets intersection which is used by 47,800 vehicles and 320 cyclists daily.
In order to deliver this upgrade five trees will be impacted to allow for new turning lanes, a bike off ramp and safety upgrades to the area.
These works will include Council planting 13 trees and more than 3000 shrubs in the local project area.
In October 2018 Council undertook a targeted and extensive community consultation program to ensure local residents and key stakeholders were informed on the Brisbane Metro project, including the proposed upgrades to local intersections.
Six community information sessions were held across South Brisbane, West End and the CBD as part of this.
Further the project plan for the upgrade was presented to Council’s Public and Active Transport Committee on 19 February, 2019 which outlined the planned upgrade, including tree removals.
The local Councillor Jonathan Sri attended this committee presentation and in addition, has been briefed on this project three times. (WBT has to see the minutes of each of those briefings).
Council is able to proceed with this important upgrade as it obtained approval from the State Government, which included for the removal of three trees on the State-owned Arts Queensland property. As with all Council projects, any tree and vegetation removal will be carried out in accordance with the relevant environmental guidelines and Council always makes every effort to minimise environmental impact.
Features of the upgrade include:
- constructing a new left turn slip lane from William Jolly Bridge into Stanley Place
- reconfiguring the road alignment on Stanley Place to create an additional right turn lane onto Grey Street
- extending the length of the right turn pocket on Grey Street northbound
- repositioning the island and right turn storage to align with the car park exit on Stanley Place
- changing traffic signal phasing to increase green time and improve intersection efficiency, particularly for precinct event traffic
- realigning pedestrian crossings and changing crossing signal arrangements to improve pedestrian safety
- constructing bike ramps on Grey Street to improve the cycling transition to and from the William Jolly Bridge.
The answer is in clear conflict with public statements made by Gabba councillor Jonathan Sri about lack of consultation.
In correspondence between Jonathan Sri, Councillor for The Gabba and city council, Cr Sri says, “… I can assure you that I didn’t know about the slip lane and the tree removals until now, so if council’s records indicate that I received detailed briefings about this in 2019, there must have been some error in the record-keeping.”
From my point of view the Brisbane Metro response still doesn’t explain why it is necessary to facilitate an increase in the number of cars going into an out of Stanley Place.
As the covid-19 curve flattens and people get back in their cars why should a publicly funded institutions like GoMA, the state library of Queensland and the art gallery support 48 thousand cars going past there door daily? Worse still why would they support more cars being able to contest the limited space in Stanley Place with public transport? All council has done is to promise Victoria Street a green bridge and to make the Grey Street a dirty bridge.
“The extent of works shown on the plan include constructing a new left turn slip lane from Grey Street into Stanley Place, with a new shared pat, a new section of bike lane and new landscaping. The works require the removal of two trees. The works also include reconfiguring the road alignment on Stanley Place to create an additional right turn lane onto Grey Street. The works require the removal of two trees and a new traffic island. “
Brisbane councillor outside the loop
Without evidence to the contrary, recently re-elected Green’s local councillor, Jonathan Sri, was one of the last people to be informed (on 6 May) about removal of trees at Southbank this coming Sunday. As part of the project to establish a Brisbane Metro, Brisbane City Council (BCC) is proposing to remove several large fig trees to expand the intersection of Grey St and Peel St with three new car lanes. More bitumen and concrete, more heat for the Cultural Centre Precinct and less green space and active transport. Council tell business maaates first and councillors last.
The Queensland Cultural Centre was built in stages.
The site, owned by the State government, was formerly an interstate railway station, a fish market, police watchouse and wharf.
Kurilpa meaning the place of the water rat has special significance for aboriginal people. Being on a flood plain, native plants like mangroves, paper bark and fig trees abound (or used to).
Urban development outside, trees inside?
The fig trees subject to be stolen were planted in 2006 as part of the landscaping of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). GoMA was intended to reflect the design of the Queenslander with big verandahs and to be part of the topography. Maybe the tree planners at City Hall want to put the five fig trees inside GoMA as an art exhibit? Artist Cai Guo-Qiang did manage to persuade gallery management to put a 30-metre eucalypt inside in 2013.
Trees are important. Some trees live through the greatest turmoil. There is an old, old fig on the St Lucia reach of the Brisbane River that has lasted through 50 years of floods, development and University landscape masterplanners. It even survived my 1953 Morris Tourer convertible crashing into it. No, I was not at the wheel, it was 1974 and flood waters had broken the banks of the river and swept my car up against the poor old fig tree, carried along by 15 knot swirling currents. Ed Lovell even tied his 30 ft sloop, the MV Phalarope, up against it during those floods.
The over-development of development
If the tree removal goes ahead and the road widened will another couple of million dollars will be added to the already expanding billion dollar budget for the Brisbane Metro Underground station and environs at Southbank.
Meanwhile state government revenues are dwindling, coal royalties are at an all-time low, yet politicians (except Jonno Sri) insist on spending up a big in Brisbane’s heartland where BCC has already approved mega-development in housing, roads, schools and bridges.
In Australia’s most de-centralised state the Queensland Government is sinking billions into SouthBank in Brisbane and Queens Wharf across the river.
In his first term, Jonathan Sri cut his teeth roundly criticising the Queens Wharf development in the Brisbane CBD. And for good reason. Now he is focussing on what is happening across the river in the Gabba ward. First we begin with the trees and the parklands and then move out into the city, and then to the state and country as a whole.
Cars-still-rule-thinking at City Hall and Brisbane Metro?
I have concerns about the following passage on the Brisbane Metro website:
“The works include increase vehicle storage capacity and extending the length of the right turn pocket on Grey Street northbound, and repositioning the in-island right turn storage to align with the car park exit.” – Brisbane City Council website.
This seems at odds with the idea of increasing public access to the Cultural Precinct as promoted on the Brisbane Metro intention of “getting you home quicker and safer with more travel options, less congestion and a greater public transport network.“
Putting in more cars lanes will increase the congestion not alleviate it. Putting more cars into the tunnel under the State Library and Qld Art Gallery will not assist in relieving congestion or increase public access to the Queensland Cultural Centre. It will become a graveyard for cars and vehicles during the next flood. Is this what we want in a post-pandemic world?
7 May 2020
On 11 May 2020 an Arts Queensland spokesperson gave the following response to my questions about removal of the trees. My questions were:
What is the strategy for works around Stanley Place?
Is it part of BCC’s Metro Project?
How much will it all cost?
There are has been little consultation, with that only starting this week and it appears work is already starting. How is this possible?
Answer: All questions in relation to the Brisbane City Council’s Brisbane Metro Project should be directed to the Brisbane City Council.
Q. I understand one tree in the area is said to have a fungus. Is this the case and if so where is the report that says it should be removed?
AQ has commissioned a horticultural assessment and a tree, in close vicinity to others to be removed as part of the Metro Project works, was identified to have a fungus issue. AQ is continuing to explore the best and safest options for the retention of this tree.
BCC has indicated it will work to minimise impact on this tree while undertaking the required tree removals at this site.
One week later, on 15 May 2020, the entrance to GoMA and State Library are definiteately looking pretty brown. Bike riders know that you need to be especially careful at slip lanes, they can be very dangerous when unsighted cars ‘slip’ around while you are trying to cross the intersection.
Here is what I mean. In the google image below the bike rider crossing the interection to continue on the bike path doesn’t know if the car and truck marked are going to continue on Canara St or if they are going round the back on the slip lane. [See Diagram]. Near misses happen on this intersection all the time. Slip lanes are poor design.
For more see https://goo.gl/maps/3dTpNSE4bTcttDEa9