A community campaign to save nine historic fig trees in Alstonville has highlighted a massive waste of money by the SW government.
Trees in schools across the state were lopped on the orders of the NSW Education Department following the death of Sydney schoolgirl Bridget Wright in February this year.
More than 5,000 trees were removed at a cost of $13 million but opponents say a review of the removals found justification for the removal of just 20 trees.
Alstonville resident Ian Cooke, who led the charge to save the fig trees at Alstonville Public School, which are located on the boundary with St Joseph’s Primary School, said bureaucrats and politicians had simply panicked.
“In my opinion it’s a sin to remove any healthy tree on this planet,’ Mr Cooke told Echonetdaily.
‘These nine historic fig trees provide a huge amount of shade and parents were concerned that their removal would leave the school children without adequate shade during the hot summer months.
Mr Cooke said 1,400 people signed a petition to save the trees but NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli had not even bothered to respond, or investigate anomalies that had been pointed out in reports from arborists.
Instead, as a final resort, an injunction was sought and granted in the NSW Land and Environment Court on the day contractors arrived to remove the trees.
NSW Land and Environment Court Justice Rachel Pepper overruled the department, citing inconsistencies in the reports used by the government to justify the removal of the Alstonville trees.
Mr Cooke said an aborist in a 2013 report had concluded that the risk of harm was 1 in 1,200,000, while a second report a year later said the risk was one in 62,000, or 20 times greater than the initial report.
Mr Cooke said if the minister had considered the differences in the reports there would have been no reason to take legal action.
He said the Alstonville win should give confidence to other communities trying to save historic trees.
‘I like to think people in other communities who have trees they regard as community assets should ask a few questions. And if you can’t get the right answers there’s always court,’ he said
‘And the NSW education department should first consult with parents and citizens before making decisions to remove trees,’ he said.
Mr Cooke also said the department should instigate a monitoring program for trees on school grounds to identify potential risks.
“It was a freak accident with the girl in Sydney and our research showed that it the first time in NSW that a child had been killed by a tree,’ he said.
‘We believe it was a panic situation. Bureaucrats and politicians like to cover their bums.’