Hastings Point residents have been outraged at the chopping down earlier this month of four majestic old Norfolk Island Pines which framed the seaside village headland, in a case which highlights the Tweed’s weaker tree-protection rules compared with neighbouring shires.
The village residents say the four historic trees, on a private property above the beach, were visible to the hundreds of motorists driving through the village on the Tweed Coast Road each day and could have been saved or pruned if they posed a safety risk.
But Tweed Shire Council says that while it didn’t support felling the trees, the owner of the property was legally entitled to remove them due to his concerns about safety and amenity.
Hastings Point local Chris Johnson told Echonetdaily the trees, two of which were around 100 years old and stood on a bluff above the beach in front of the property, were ‘a navigational landmark and asset to the beach vista’.
Ms Johnson said that ‘after a long-running dispute, the resident deemed falling cones and foliage of a non-native species were a nuisance, posing high maintenance’.
She said she had ‘assumed that when the owner bought the property three years ago, he would have been aware of the pines’ importance to the village amenity.
‘The four old trees have been a major part of the Hastings Point headland landscape for generations and popular with locals and tourists alike’, Ms Johnson said.
‘Aside from their beauty, the trees are also a haven for thousands of birds and wildlife.
‘It was so surreal to see a crane come in and take each tree out in three sections, when we heard the noise a neighbour and I went up there to see and were horrified.
‘We kept thinking hundreds of years of growth in them just gone, the black cockatoos and other birds use them often.
‘If we had been notified beforehand we could have spoken to the owner about it.
‘It’s such a shame, in Manly they spend tens of thousands of dollars in research to preserve the old Norfolk Island Pines on their tourist strip, at Windsor Castle they preserve their historic oak trees, and what do we do here on the Tweed? Chop them down!’
Council’s engineering director David Oxenham told Echonetdaily there had been no dispute over the trees ‘nor has any approval been provided to the owner for them to be removed’.
Mr Oxenham said ‘the trees are on private property and the owner has removed them due to safety and amenity concerns.
‘There has been some community concern regarding their removal and Council has expressed this concern to the owner and also attempted to find a method to mitigate the risk and amenity issue,’ he said.
‘Following recent advice from the owner that he intended to remove the trees, Council wrote to the owner advising that Council does not support the removal of the trees.
‘However, there is no legal impediment for him to have them removed. The owner has been very open and collaborative with Council during this entire process.
‘Given that there was no approval required for these trees to be removed there was no requirement for Council (elected councillors) to make a decision on this matter,’ Mr Oxenham said.
Under the Tweed LEP 2000, Council has three Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) whereby certain trees (such as koala food species) within their mapped areas need council approval for removal.
TPOs, according to council’s website, ‘seek to retain trees that contribute to the general health and well being of the Shire’s residents’.
But outside those areas, it’s open slather for private property owners to remove trees if they deem them a safety or amenity nuisance.
As a result, calls for Council to tighten its tree-protection rules have been made over the years especially by Greens Cr Katie Milne.
In Byron Shire, where Green politics are mainstream, the rules protecting old trees are much more stricter, with landowners requiring permission to remove trees over three metres tall or near a reserve.
Tweed Council website notes on TPOs say ‘trees are of vital importance in improving the visual quality of an area’ and that ‘the predominance of tree cover both in bushland and urban areas forms an integral part of the character of Tweed Shire’.
But that, according to many locals, doesn’t stop residents wanting to improve their views or amenity from chopping trees down.
Tweed Council also has a Register of Significant Trees which identifies trees considered significant in the Shire.
Residents can nominate a tree or group of trees, followed by an assessment by council’s arborist ‘and if found to have merit, the tree may be adopted by Council at a council meeting and then placed on the register’.
For more information contact council’s Recreation Services Unit on 02 6670 2615 or 02 6670 2530.