Sunday, May 6, 2007

Background paper

Three separate land titles comprising approximately 3,000 sq.m, mainly of old growth forest in good condition, has recently been offered for sale for $3.1M.

The properties consist of:

39 Wilfred Avenue: 883 sq.m - $800,000
41 Wilfred Avenue: 1,425 sq.m - $1,600,000
43 Wilfred Avenue: 625 sq.m - $700,000

The owner of the properties is promoting the residential development potential or the land with exhortations to prospective purchasers that they ‘bring your bulldozer”.

Local residents are outraged that such high quality, old growth forest could be so lowly valued given the state of our planet and the threat of Global Warming and Climate Change.

When the properties were first advertised for sale a few months ago, over 100 the local residents petitioned Willoughby City Council “to protect and preserve this bushland, currently under threat of development”.

Like so many petitions received by Council, the wheels turned slowly. Nothing was forthcoming from Council – so the residents took the matter in hand. They decided to try and purchase, at least one of the properties. Two neighbours embarked on a process of negotiation with the owner to purchase a two-third share of 43 Wilfred Avenue for $420,000 to preserve the bushland on the block. Unfortunately, negotiations with the owner failed when he decided that he was not prepared to proceed.

After speaking with Willoughby Council, West Ward Councillor Terry Fogarty, the residents realised that they would need to be able to demonstrate wide community support if they were to seek financial and other assistance from Council. They embarked on a process of collecting financial pledges from Chatswood and Chatswood West residents with a view to purchasing 43 Wilfred Avenue to preserve and protect the bushland on the site.

Clr. Fogarty lodged a Notice of Motion with Council: “That Council consider how it can support a local community in the acquisition of properties 39-43 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood to preserve the existing natural heritage and the ecologically significant intrinsic values of the properties”

After a short door-knock campaign the local residents have raised $500,000 in financial pledges toward the purchase of 43 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood.

The pledges the residents have raised come from other residents in nearby streets who consider the intrinsic value of bushland something worth fighting for. Additional pledges, from around thirty people, range from $50 to $1,000 each, including one pledge from a pensioner for $500. Pledges have been received from residents as far away as Bellevue Street(?).

Based on the pledges received, the residents made a revised offer to the owner of 42 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood to purchase the property outright for $650,000. This offer is acceptable to the owner.

The residents are hoping that their Council will see fit to pledge the remaining $150,000 and any associated fees.

The residents would also like their Council to consider pooling with them to secure all three properties into a Climate Change Trust for a defined period (say one to three years) until there is a better understanding of the value of bushland for mitigating the impacts of Global Warming.

After considering the local resident’s petitions and Clr.Fogarty’s proposed motion, the Council Officers have recommended that:

No further action be taken to purchase any portion of the property and Council Officers work with any potential developer of the site to ensure that significant natural features of the site are retained through a negotiated planning and design process.

A copy of the Council Officer’s Report can be viewed here.
The value of bushland
Urban bushland has a number of intrinsic values including:

· maintaining biodiversity
· producing oxygen
· as a carbon sink (carbon storage and sequestration)
· timber (at some point in its life-cycle)
· fauna habitat
· micro-climate influence
· therapeutic and social value
· reduction of water table/salinity control
· soil erosion control
· soil decontamination
· prevention of heat absorption
· stormwater management
· pollutant ‘scrubbing’
· shading, resulting in the reduction in energy consumption for adjacent properties
· increasing rainfall
· spiritual and other intrinsic value
· aesthetic and amenity to landowner
· public amenity
· private amenity

Some of the intrinsic values of bushland benefit the landowner, other benefit adjacent neighbors and other benefit the local and wider community to varying degree,
The ‘economic’ value of trees and bushland
A number of studies have assessed the economic value of bushland.

One study assessed the value of street trees in Colorado, US to be of the order of US$111.00 per tree per annum. This study only considered shading, pollution ‘scrubbing’, run-off control and carbon storage and sequestration)
This study values land for street trees at approximately $669.00 per sq.m. ($418,000 for #43).

Another study assessed the value of trees in an 800 hectare forest. The study considered values such as climate stabilisation, amenity to landowners, therapeutic and social value, biodiversity, increased rainfall, spiritual and other intrinsic value.

A couple of studies have looked at the economic value of trees for the production of oxygen. One study found a tree with a canopy of 80 sq.m would have produced over $12M value of oxygen in its lifetime. A more conservative study (USDA Forest Service Pamphlet #R1-92-100) valued oxygen production of trees at US$3,125 per sq.m of tree cover ($2,378,125 for #43).

In reality, the economic value of bushland is probably best valued by its opportunity cost. In the case of the properties in Wilfred Avenue this is around $3M or $650,000 for 43 Wilfred Avenue.

The value of bushland as a ‘carbon sink’
In considering the value of bushland as a ‘carbon sink’, Council Officer’s have reported on the current value of the land for carbon sequestration to be of the order of $100.00 per hectare per annum. For a 99-year lease this would value carbon sequestration on 43 Wilfred Avenue at a miserly $618.75.

The NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme is predicated on a penalty of $11.00 per tonne of carbon. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report, Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change (4th May 2007) has identified that carbon penalties need to be set in the order to US$155.00/tCO2-eq (A$190.00). This is some seventeen times higher than current rates.

The Council Officers also failed to consider the value if carbon stored in trees (as distinct from the carbon sequestered by the trees). Trees store carbon at a approximately three times the rate that they sequester CO2.

This only serves to highlight the fact that the value of bushland to mitigate the impact of Global Warming is an evolving science. Hence the call by the local community for a Precautionary Approach or a ‘moratorium’ on the sale of this land until more is known.
Addressing other aspects of the Officer’s Report
Inter alia, the Council Officer’s report responding to Clr. Fogarty’s proposed motion considers the three properties in the context of Council’s ‘Acquisition of Land for Open Space’ policy.

The report fails to mention that Council has constructed a walking track (part of the planned ‘Rail to River Walk’) at the rear of the properties. Whilst, the track is currently located on land owned by Chatswood Golf Club, the report fails to mention that Council is in the process of negotiating a lease for this land from the Club to complete the ‘Rail to River Walk’. When these negotiations are concluded the site would meet points 1 to 5 of Council’s policy and hence worthy of acquisition in its own right (apart from any additional benefits that could be demonstrated in relation to mitigating the impacts of Global Warming).
Proposed Motion
In light of the special circumstances relating to the proposed acquisition by the community and Council of properties 39-43 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood being:

the unprecedented commitment exhibited by the local community in pledging $500,000 towards the acquisition of 43 Wilfred Avenue
the evolving knowledge of the value of bushland to mitigate the impacts of Global Warming, and
the anticipated lease by Council of the portion of the ‘Rail to River Walk’ on Chatswood Golf Club land adjacent to the site

that Council

  • Resolve to join with the local community to purchase 39-43 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood into an appropriate Trust. The land to be held by the Trust for at least one year with a view to identify alternative uses and sources of funding, or

  • Resolve to join with the local community to purchase 43 Wilfred Avenue, Chatswood into an appropriate Trust. The land to be held by the Trust for at least one year with a view to identifying alternative uses and sources of funding.

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