Dr Heather Holmes-Ross

Dr Heather Holmes-Ross

December 2020

In recent times metropolitan councils have been encouraged to increase housing density in line with the 2010 State Government’s 30-year plan for Greater Adelaide. The document includes an aspirational target for 85 per cent of growth to occur within the current metropolitan footprint by 2045. This goal is reflected in the nuances of the new Planning and Design Code.

There are good reasons to control urban sprawl, including avoiding encroachment onto productive agricultural and horticultural land and reducing issues related to urban fringe growth such as car dependence, limited access to services, and high infrastructure costs. Additionally, there are advantages to urban infill. It provides smaller dwellings which can attract younger people to the area and allows older residents to downsize. However, absorbing increased population into the suburbs puts additional strain on existing infrastructure, such as schools, libraries, open spaces, and roads.

One of the things residents most value in Mitcham is the leafy green look of our city. Unfortunately, an additional problem with infill development is that most blocks are totally cleared of vegetation, with no regard to retaining mature trees. This is despite well documented evidence that trees, particularly mature ones, improve our health and wellbeing, help cool our suburbs, and increase our property values.

The rate of tree canopy loss is alarming. Last year Council increased its annual tree planting from 1200 to 1600 trees, but that won’t increase our canopy - it only makes up the tree loss from private land. The assumption that Council can keep up the offset is unsustainable, because we’re running out of spaces to plant, and this is happening not just in Mitcham, but throughout suburban Adelaide.

To this end, during October I was proud to coordinate the signing by metropolitan mayors of an open letter to Minister for Planning, the Hon Vickie Chapman, requesting that she review the regulations regarding tree retention in the new Planning and Design Code. It is encouraging that the Minister appears willing to listen, has postponed the implementation of phase 3 of the new Code, and has announced further community consultation.  I am hopeful that she will heed our call to retain trees through the development process and in particular, increase the protection of significant and regulated trees, to help save our precious tree canopy.

What a year we’ve had!  Starting with extreme weather, followed by a worldwide public health disaster, I have witnessed fear, loss, loneliness, hardship, anguish and uncertainty, alongside selflessness, empathy, thankfulness, innovation, joy and resilience, like never before in our community. I wish to sincerely thank everyone who has played a part in keeping us safe this year, and wish you all - Elected Members, Council staff and volunteers, and every member of our community, a safe, happy and peaceful festive season.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our new Gault ward councillor, Coralie Cheney. I’m really looking to working with her and am sure she’ll make an excellent addition to the Elected Member team.