Trees cut down along the centre of Lygon St

Carol Saffer

The City of Melbourne began stage two of its Lygon St Centre Median Upgrade project on Thursday, June 16, with the removal of 20 London Plane trees between Queensberry and Pelham streets.

According to the council, the London Plane trees demonstrated poor health due to substandard soil quality and constrained site conditions which subsequently impacted their lifespan and canopy growth.

“The Lygon Street Centre Median Upgrade is one of many improvements we’re delivering as part of our Urban Forest Strategy, which aims to increase canopy cover on public land to 40 per cent by 2040,” said a City of Melbourne spokesperson.

The tree removal project is similar to works undertaken in 2018 along the first section of the Lygon Street median strip between Victoria and Queensberry streets, which included tree replanting and soil improvements.

The replacement trees planted in 2018 are performing well and displaying healthy growth. 

Carlton Traders Inc executive officer Phil Mansour said the City of Melbourne advised Carlton Inc. that it had consulted the community about this plan eight to 10 years ago.

“The traders want the Plane trees cut down, but there’s no clear plan from the City of Melbourne to beautify Lygon St,” Mr Mansour said.

“To show you how disjointed the City of Melbourne is, during the pandemic, they spent more than $200,000 on lighting to light up the canopies of the trees through the median strip of Lygon St,” he said.

“To this day, the lights installed have not done what was present in a provided artist’s impression.”

Mr Mansour said the council was replacing the Plane trees with a species that drops hard berries that will cause a tripping hazard.

“No logic or planning is coming from the City of Melbourne; there was definitely no consultation with businesses in the precinct,” he said.

“The Plane trees need to go, but we must keep the street’s beautification.”

“Mature trees are needed to replace the Plane trees; oak trees would be beautiful, not trees that drop berries.”

Adrian Pagano, co-owner of Parco Canteen, situated next to Argyle Square on Lygon St, said removing the Plane trees was a fabulous idea.

“For three months of the year during spring, the trees’ pollen is so bad no one wants to eat outside,” he said.

“It is a horrible tree.”

The council said the proposed replacement species is Celtis Australis (Mediterranean Hackberry), matching the tree species already planted in the first stage and also noted as suitable for changing climate conditions.

While it is a fruiting tree, the level of crop observed in Melbourne is low compared to its natural habitat.

“As people generally don’t walk down the median strip, I can’t see how the berries of the replacement Hackberry tree could be a problem,” Mr Pagano said.

Planting the trees in the median strip minimises the impact on pedestrians and cyclists.

The council’s regular street cleaning program will remove debris from the road and can be carried out more regularly during the fruiting season if required.

Proposed works include tree replacement, greater soil volume, and quality improvements to provide suitable conditions for long-term healthy tree growth.

“This project will help restore the urban forest in this pocket of Carlton, with trees that are better suited to Melbourne’s future climate,” a City of Melbourne spokesperson said.

“City greening projects are essential to support a diverse urban forest, increase canopy cover and keep our city cool in a warming climate.”

Canopy growth of the replacement trees is expected to exceed that of the existing underperforming Plane trees.

Angelo Mercuri, the owner of Universal Italian Restaurant, said the pollen from the Plane trees had always been a problem for his outside diners.

“During spring, we have to wipe the pollen from the tables constantly,” he said.

“If the Hackberry tree provides a shade canopy during summer and spring and no pollen, it’s okay by me.”

The council advised that community engagement for the current median works took place in May and included letters to residents, the notification of traders through the council’s Business Concierge service and signage at prominent locations highlighting removals.

A works notice was also distributed to nearby properties and businesses. 

It also stated community engagement on the broader Carlton Urban Forest Precinct Plan took place in 2013 before endorsement and implementation.

The plan guides upgrades and improvements in the precinct over 10 years. It is anticipated that the current median program will be completed by the end of June.

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