Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham is at loggerheads with her own staff over the planned demolition of 87 mature blackbutt trees along Broken Head Road to make room for road wideneing.
Twenty of the trees have already been cut down and Cr Barham, who inspected the scene this morning, is now in council seeking an urgency motion to have the environmental vandalism halted.
The mayor said the first that she heard of her staff’s own plans was on Friday, when staff’s weekly bulletin to councillors referred to roadworks on Broken Head Road.
‘But in three paragraphs it failed to mention widening of the road and the removal of trees. It was only when I got back [to Byron] on Tuesday night and got calls from residents who saw tags around trees marked for removal that I realised what was going on, she told Echonetdaily this morning.
‘Yesterday I sought answers through proper process but failed to get a satisfactory response. I asked an ecologist for further information and decided something had to be done.’
Cr Barham said that no developer in the shire would be allowed to undertake works of the kind that council staff had taken it upon themselves to do.
‘A DA would simply not be issued,’ she said.
‘However a new planning instrument the state has created allows infrastructure works to go ahead without proper processes. A review of environmental effects took place but it doesn’t meet the objectives of our biodiversity strategy – it doesn’t even consider known endangered species in the area.
The mayor said that ‘despite it being high conservation area and a scenic environment, despite so many years on hotlist of biodiversity nationally, staff proceeded to remove 80-year-old blackbutt trees that form a canopy that support endangered species’.
She added that it would inevitably lead to more roadkill because animals that would have crossed the road via overhanging trees will have no option but to crawl onto the road.
She earlier told ABC radio that a tree that was run into by a car killing four young people some years ago was earmarked for retention but that other trees located further back from the road had already been removed.
She said that the state of the road was not an issue in the deaths and that council was looking at other options, including signage and lowering the speed limit to deal with traffic problems. She believes the road does not need to be widened.
‘With all of the other roads in this shire that desperately need work – and this was the priority that council staff came up with!’
‘I asked the question of staff yesterday [as to] whether I am able to move a motion in council so that any works of this type that impact on significant ecological areas are reported to a council meeting in future. Everyone in this shire expects this should happen.
‘It’s surprising that staff don’t get that this sort of action is what we are trying to stop everyone else doing – and council are doing it themselves!’