Ms McCarthy said residents of the apartment building were told on December 20 that building would begin in early January and take 12 months.
However, she said residents were only given details of the size of the building and the material used in its construction last week after work had already begun with the removal of the trees.
“It’s so depressing,” she said. “The big fig trees were just glorious. The irony of cutting down trees in the middle of bushfires just sends me spare.”
Ms McCarthy also accused Defence of ignoring residents’ attempts to discuss the project before building works commenced.
“I mean it’s the arrogance and hubris of not responding to our letter,” she said.
A Defence spokeswoman said the building works were part of a $286 million project to replace ageing and degraded substations.
“Extensive” community consultations were conducted in 2018 prior to a public inquiry into the project by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Work, she said. “Defence continues to have ongoing and regular consultation with community members regarding the Base, with concerns raised being directly addressed with the affected residents.”
While state planning laws do not apply to building projects on Commonwealth land, the spokeswoman said Defence had to comply with Commonwealth laws, which were “similar in nature to the NSW planning rules”.
But Andrew Woodhouse, the president of the Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage & Residents’ Society, said Defence had failed to adequately consult with its neighbours.
Mr Woodhouse outlined residents’ concerns about the bulk, size and design of the building, which he said was “horrendous and looks like a Bunnings barn special” in a letter to Defence.
Mr Woodhouse also said Defence had failed to investigate the potential negative impacts of the building on neighbours.
“Defence is arrogant, ignorant and negligent and may be subject to very large future legal claims from its staff and neighbours,” he said.
Mr Woodhouse said residents were concerned about the risk damage to their apartment building.
“The underhand manner in which defence has dealt with locals is risible,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the City of Sydney said the council had not not received any updates from Defence about the project since April 2018.
She said the council had strongly recommended Defence take measures to deal with potential issues such as noise, vibration, construction traffic and contaminants being washed into the harbour.
“If the land was privately owned or under the jurisdiction of the city or state government, a development application for the project and proposed loss of two trees would have been required to be placed on public exhibition to allow the community to review and provide feedback,” she said.
However, Alex Greenwich, the Independent member for Sydney, said the parliamentary committee’s scrutiny was unlikely to consider the impact of Defence building projects on adjacent neighbourhoods.
Mr Greenwich said any other developer would have to justify the removal of mature trees.
“While Defence has national interests that warrant priority, there should be independent assessment and oversight of significant developments, most of which are not for urgent military outcomes, especially when neighbours are concerned about health, safety or amenity,” he said.
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.