The surprise removal his week of a much-loved grand old fig tree in a lane in the heart of Pottsville to make way for a new two-way road has left the only resident there shocked, and angry and caused a spat among councillors.
The controversial axing of the small-leaved fig in Berkleys Lane, a decision which bitterly divided Tweed shire councillors, was part of upgrade works which started this week to turn the narrow road into a two-way bitumen street, much sooner than longtime resident Donna Black and others expected.
Ms Black, who has lived in the lane in the fast-growing coastal town for 25 years, said it was ‘a sad and sorry day for Pottsville to lose the grand old tree’, and slammed councillors behind the move.
Mayor Gary Bagnall, who opposed the removal with Greens Cr Katie Milne and Labor’s Michael Armstrong, said removing the fig was unnecessary and not supported by council staff or its traffic committee.
Cr Bagnall said the three progressive councillors were frustrated in their efforts to save the tree, with Cr Barry Longland, a longtime promoter of the removal scheme, joining pro-development National Party aligned Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne to vote down amendments which would have saved it.
Cr Longland had put up the original motion for the tree to be cut down, backed by the pro-development faction, despite staff recommending against it.
Cr Bagnall said he, Crs Milne and Armstrong were outnumbered in council and could not rescind the decision, and the lane ‘now looks like open space… it’s wrecked the aesthetics of the street’.
He took an extraordinary swipe at Cr Longland, a former mayor who lost the backing of the progressive three councillors last year in his bid to remain mayor, and who has since been voting against his former colleagues on major, contentious issues.
‘He’s consistently siding with the conservatives and it’s now really hard for us to protect the environment,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘We fight to try and save koalas on the Tweed Coast but he votes against us on the Black Rocks gates and other similar issues, so we’re losing the battle because Barry Longland has changed sides and turned against the people of the Tweed,’ he said.
Ms Black also laid the blame squarely on Cr Longland, saying he was ‘behind all this from the start’.
She told Echonetdaily she was woken rudely on Tuesday ‘to the destruction of our old tree, it was very distressing’.
She said council had publicly announced the works would not start till the end of August and take around three months.
But she was taken by surprise when work began this week and confronted the work crew demanding they stop chopping down the tree.
Council’s engineering manager David Oxenham, who was also on site, told Ms Black the decision had been approved by council with the local community association and adjoining property owners consulted.
But Ms Black said that she was the only resident in the lane and should have been contacted but only the business owners were instead.
Yesterday, council issued a press release headed ‘Pottsville tree goes but its genetics will live on’, saying cuttings and seeds from the remnant fig had been harvested ‘to ensure the tree’s genetics are saved for future biodiversity needs and to again grace the village’.
Council says the Ficus obliqua was one of five trees removed from Berkley Lane ‘to give council the space it needs to upgrade the narrow gravel road to a two-way bitumen street, starting this week’.
Both the cuttings and seeds were taken to council’s nursery, where they will be propagated for a future planting in Pottsville.
Council also saved and relocated a large hive of native bees from the tree by installing a bee box in the fig several weeks ago to encourage their migration.
The release said that some of the bees, however, stayed put, forcing council to wait to seal them in the hive in the trunk section yesterday before cutting and relocating it to a nearby regeneration site using an excavator.
Several other slabs from the fig were given to local wood-turners at the community’s request.
Ms Black said she used much of the woodchips from the trees to spread around her yard.
Three other large trees – a weeping paperbark (Melaleuca leucadendra), umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) and rubber tree (Ficus elastica) – were also removed.
‘The native North Queensland paperbark’s invasive root system would risk lifting the bitumen pavement, the umbrella tree is considered a weed species and was smothering a nearby native swamp box (Lophostemon suaveolens) and the exotic rubber tree was removed at the request of the community group Koala Connections. The other tree, an oak (Casuarina), was cleared to make way for the road,’ the release said.
‘To offset the removal of the trees, council also contributed $5,000 to Koala Connection’s bush regeneration works within an endangered ecological community of Swamp sclerophyll floodplain forest, north of Berkley Lane.
‘The long-awaited Berkley Lane upgrade will see the gravel laneway linking Pottsville sportsfields to Berkley Lane transformed into a two-way lane, with kerb and guttering, bitumen pavement and landscaped with plantings of native tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides) to make up for some of the loss of amenity from the removal of the big trees.
‘The Pottsville Central businesses that front Coronation Avenue and back on to Berkley Lane contributed $163,000 towards the total $300,000 cost of the project after negotiations with the Pottsville Progress Association, Chamber of Commerce and community.
‘The upgrade will reduce congestion on Coronation Avenue by better accommodating deliveries to the back of these businesses and access to their customer car parks.
‘Council acquired the lane (road reserve) from the New South Wales Lands Department several years ago. Initially it designed the upgrade as a single lane but modified the design to two lanes at the request of the community.
‘When completed, the lane will be pedestrian-friendly, with highly visible pedestrian signage, traffic restricted to 25km/h and speed humps at both the east and west entrances.
‘Laneway traffic will be under the control of stop/slow flagmen during the upgrade and speed restrictions will apply.’