A major greening program by Melbourne’s City West Water has been a boon for the city’s disadvantaged areas, with close to one million trees planted over the past six years, according to new RMIT research. However, more work will be needed to stop the loss of greening due to private development.

Lead researcher Dr Casey Furlong said the Greening the West program was an important win as the target areas of Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley and Wyndham faced significant socioeconomic and health disadvantages compared with the rest of Melbourne.

“These vulnerabilities are compounded by a significant deficit in trees and quality public green space,” Dr Furlong said, with tree canopy coverage in Melbourne’s western suburbs only about 5-10 per cent, compared with 10-30 per cent elsewhere.

The program in 2011 brought together 23 member organisations to address this shortfall, including local and state government, water utilities and community groups.

“Greening the West has made substantial on-the-ground differences, most notably adding almost one million more trees in and around Melbourne’s west, and contributed indirectly to increasing the number of street trees through changing local government priorities,” Dr Furlong said.

“There are significantly more trees in the streets, parks, waterway corridors and drainage reserves of Melbourne’s western suburbs thanks to this group’s existence.”

Benefits to greening include reduced temperatures by moderating the urban heat island effect, improved air quality, as well as increased house prices and worker productivity.

Dr Furlong said the program model could be applied to areas like Western Sydney, which is struggling to provide adequate green infrastructure.

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“Because of its similar profile to western Melbourne, a collaborative greening initiative like this could be rolled out in western Sydney,” Dr Furlong said.

“A similar regional model could also be used to address other complex challenges like homelessness.”

Is it enough?

However, the researchers said the program could not combat intensifying development, with a “lack of planning controls to protect and increase urban greening as urban development and densification occurs”, combined with an already “significant deficit” in green space and trees in the area.

Recommendations include:

  • Exploring possibilities for state-wide, or Melbourne-wide, planning regulations around minimum levels of tree coverage in streets, open space and private lots within new developments (to complement existing regulations around public open space and private garden areas)
  • Establishing an inquiry into regulations around road and electricity wire clearances, to ensure the current regulations strike the right balance between public safety and community health and wellbeing
  • Exploring further opportunities for metropolitan or regional-scale planning of greening, and green corridors
  • Finding innovative mechanisms to encourage developers to provide additional greening

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