A last-ditch effort to save landmark old trees earmarked to be chopped down as part of the new design plans to replace the historic Mount Warning Hotel at Uki, which burnt down over a year ago, appears to have paid off.
Both the pub’s licensee, Geoff Brown, and Tweed councillor Gary Bagnall have been praised, by locals who opposed the plans, for reaching an agreement yesterday to save one of three century-old old hoop pines and an endangered gum in the carpark area of the site.
Mr Brown last night confirmed the owners had agreed for those trees, which are two of the four largest trees on the site, to be retained and incorporated in the design layout.
Councillors last Thursday approved the staged design plans for the rebuild of the heritage pub, at a cost of around $2 million, but the proposed removal of the three large old hoop pines and other trees on the site sparked an outcry over the shire’s lack of heritage protection for such trees.
Staff had recommended approval for replacing the old two-storey timber pub with a single-storey building and a six-unit motel in a separate building next door, with more than 100 conditions attached, including replacement plantings for the lost hoop pines.
The plans included an arborist’s report, which recommended cutting down the hoop pines, claiming they were of ‘no significance’, and other trees on the site to make way for the new pub.
Crs Bagnall and Katie Milne unsuccessfully tried to defer the issue for an independent review of the arborist’s report, which condemned the trees, describing it as ‘flawed’ and ‘unconvincing’.
Cr Milne said it was the third historic hotel in the Tweed to lose such heritage trees and she questioned the validity of the arborist report used for the Uki pub.
She said councillors had a duty to preserve, and do all they could to protect, the shire’s heritage and said the hoop pines were potentially salvageable and there was no evidence to suggest that any serious effort had been made to retain these historic trees or salvage any materials from the historic pub.
Cr Milne told councillors not only did Uki lose some of its heritage when the pub was destroyed by fire in February last year but, under the plans, would also lose historic trees, which are the last remnant of heritage on the the site.
She said councillors had a duty to preserve and do all they could to protect the shire’s heritage.
Cr Milne said that even the council report and the heritage consultants highlighted that the arborist’s report was flawed and completely lacked any accepted methodology to justify the trees’ purported lack of heritage significance.
As a result, councillors unanimously supported Cr Milne’s motion to include a condition to salvage timber from the hoop pines to reuse as a feature or furniture in the hotel in order to display their heritage values, but refused to delay the approval any further.
‘Even the Dunn’s white gum was written off as common and not native to this area, but it is actually the dominant species of an endangered ecological community White Gum Moist Forest of the North Coast Bioregion and occurs in Uki ,according to the NSW government reports,’ she said.
Trading by Xmas
Owners of the pub, Brett and Kim Watson, who observed the debate, welcomed the approval, telling Echonetdaily they were itching to get started so the pub could be built and trading by Christmas.
And in an unprecedented move after the owners had been given legal authority to remove the trees, Cr Bagnall approached licensee Geoff Brown at the weekend to try to negotiate a better outcome for the trees.
This was in stark contrast to the position taken by Tweed mayor and longtime Uki resident Barry Longland, who voted to remove the trees.
Cr Longland said before the 6–1 vote to approve the plans (Cr Milne against), that it was clear many locals were in favour of the new plan and that as a resident of the village for 15 years and past president of its ratepayer association, he was ‘in contact with the community and what they think’.
Uki resident Carla Wilson, who appealed to councillors before the vote to try to preserve the trees, told Echonetdaily yesterday the agreement to save two of the four old trees, including the hoop pine in the carpark area, was ‘great news’.
Ms Wilson said she was grateful that Mr Brown and the owners had changed their mind over the fate of the historic trees.
‘I sure welcome it. It’s a family-run business and I can understand they want to get it up and running again. They had the authority to remove the trees but chose to listen to the community and save some of them. Good on them,’ she said.
Ms Wilson, who also lodged an opposing submission, said her concern from the start was the ‘misinformation over what the plans meant for these trees, as people were shocked to learn they would be removed’.
‘Council should have been more proactive at trying to find a solution from the start,’ she said, also praising Cr Bagnall for not giving up on the issue.
‘But I was very disappointed that Council totally ignored a request for the trees to be assessed under heritage criteria, which was vitally important.’
Ms Wilson agreed that arborists’ reports in future should be put under much stricter scrutiny, a point hammered again by Crs Milne and Bagnall during debate.
In the past few years, a number of historic and landmark pines and fig trees at popular locations around the shire have been cut down after arborists engaged by developers have cited damage to trees or rotting branches as a safety concern necessitating their removal.
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily the last-minute owners’ agreement ‘to save half the trees is a wonderful outcome’.
‘You don’t often see that, where ongoing negotiations with a developer, even after an approval, get a result,’ he said.
‘There was no real justification to remove the trees and I just felt more should have been done, and now as a result an endangered species (Dunn’s white gum, a koala-food tree) and a heritage tree have been saved.’
Cr Bagnall said, ‘more effort could have been made to keep them: when you keep the old vegetation on a demolished site the new building looks a lot more established straightaway’.
‘What Cr Milne and I hope to achieve from this experience is a better policy regarding arborist reports on heritage tree extraction,’ he said.
‘The very least would be another arborist’s being brought in for a second opinion and even better to have two further arborist reports.’
Meanwhile, councillors last Thursday also unanimously approved a development control plan (DCP) for the preservation of trees and vegetation in the shire.
The new DCP aims ‘to protect the biodiversity, amenity and cultural values of the Tweed through the preservation of the shire’s trees and vegetation’.
One of its key objectives is to ‘recognise and conserve very large trees (locally indigenous or otherwise) of amenity, heritage or habitat value’.
It will also ‘provide a process for identifying, listing and preserving trees of ecological, heritage, aesthetic and cultural significance through a Significant Vegetation Register’.