By Julie Owens

29 June 2021

The NSW Government continues to wage a war on heritage and green space in Parramatta.

Let’s start with Willow Grove. I’ve previously written about the long battle to save this heritage building from demolition to build – paradoxically – a heritage museum.

Despite overwhelming community opposition and a Green Ban stopping work, the NSW Government is pushing ahead with its new plan to dismantle and ‘move’ Willow Grove to an unspecified site.

Community activists from the North Parramatta Residents Action Group have taken the fight to the NSW Land & Environment Court, arguing that the NSW Government failed to properly consider alternatives that would have allowed Willow Grove to remain on Phillip St, where it’s stood for almost 150 years.

Two weeks ago the Court found in favour of the NSW Government and last Monday, workers began demolishing the one-of-a-kind Italianate villa.

But I’m pleased to say the fight is not over. Activists gathered before dawn last Tuesday to surround Willow Grove and NPRAG won an injunction that will stop the destruction of the building until the Court’s decision can be appealed. Unfortunately, workers are still tearing down outbuildings and cutting down trees at the site.

While the future of Willow Grove hangs in the balance, Greater Sydney Parklands is planning to remove 60 mature trees from Parramatta Park to make way for 130 new parking spaces.

This is being done as part of the ‘People’s Loop’ project, which – again paradoxically – is all about removing cars from the park to make it more pedestrian-friendly.

Locals say they’ve been blindsided by the decision as there was no mention of removing trees and building new car parks when the People’s Loop consultation was held 6 years ago.

They’re fighting hard to save the trees, with a petition asking Parramatta Council to intervene gaining more than 1,000 signatures. Thanks to their efforts, work on the project will stop for at least five weeks to allow for further community consultation.

Parramatta Park is a significant heritage site, with thousands of years of Aboriginal Heritage and the World Heritage listed Old Government House within its boundary, and it deserves to be protected.

The removal of trees anywhere in Parramatta is a cause for concern. Poor planning decisions and the explosion of heat intensifying infrastructure such as carparks are compounding the consequences of climate change and in 2019, Parramatta sweltered through 47 days over 35C.

If we want to reduce this ‘urban heat island’ effect, we need to protect the tree cover and green spaces we have and create more.

Sadly, the Morrison Government is trying to push through changes that will undermine federal protections for environment and heritage, devolving decision-making powers in NSW to a state government that seems hell bent on replacing trees and heritage buildings with concrete and glass.

I want to thank the locals who are fighting to protect Parramatta’s heritage and save these trees, including North Parramatta Residents Action Group, Save Willow Grove and the unions backing the Green Ban on Willow Grove.

They are fighting to make Parramatta a better place to live and when it comes to saving trees, doing all they can to ensure Parramatta remains liveable.