A majestic old fig tree in Bentinck Street, Ballina, which was set for the chop because it had blocked a stormwater drain, has had a stay of execution.
Ballina Shire councillors unanimously rescinded a recent controversial decision to chop the tree down and replace it, opting instead for a maintenance program for at least a year to minimise damage to nearby drainage and to promote the health of the tree.
Cr Jeff Johnson, who had moved for the rescission, said the decision was the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ for other old fig trees destined for the same fate in Ballina and the survival of the tree, outside 51 Bentinck Street, would have a flow-on effect.
‘This really is a win for everyone who places a high value in protecting our street trees. We should be planting more trees, not chopping them down,’ he said.
Cr Sue Meehan said councillors were overwhelmed with the level of public support for the tree and praised Dr Effie Ablett, who had earlier pleaded with councillors to save the tree.
Cr Meehan said the fig-tree issue also had highlighted problems with overhead electrical wiring in downtown Ballina and it was time council lobbied Essential Energy to bundle wiring where possible, as was done in Byron Bay, which was less expensive than placing power lines underground.
Dr Ablett, from Pearces Creek, said that when she lived in Brisbane in the mid-1980s, the council there wanted to chop down a large Moreton Bay fig to widen the road but the huge public outcry prevented that and instead the tree was dug up and moved further down the road and replanted in a park.
She said the roots were cut within a metre of the base of the tree, which later grew quite well. The Ballina figs, which were a related species, were known for surviving root cutting.
She said Melbourne’s Bayside Council was proactive at saving and planting trees, aiming to have at least one street tree planted outside each property in their area, and by late 2009 had reported filling 84 per cent of these sites.
She said that council also put a dollar value on their trees and the valuation method took account of the tree’s age, condition and significance which, by applying it to Ballina’s memorial cross fig trees, put a value on each of them at $500,000.
Dr Ablett said she had been told that many years ago a petition to save Ballina’s many old street fig trees was signed by 7,000 residents.