A Byron Shire councillor who voted to commission an audit, costing ratepayers $21,780, into the processes surrounding the unapproved removal of trees Byron’s Railway Park late last year now admits the money might have been better spent ‘planting more trees’.
The independent report has suggested six recommendations to improve process following the incident .
Three trees were removed without notice on October 12, 2017, including a large Eucalyptus Dunnii, to make way for improvements as part of the town’s first masterplan project. Council’s former general manager Ken Gainger admitted to personally ordering the action, but has not faced any consequences.
Apart from reporting that community notification should have occurred prior to cutting the trees down, Sydney-based consultants SINC Solutions say there was a ‘level of confusion,’ given the ‘level of involvement of the Byron Bay town masterplan leadership team.’
It’s an accusation that has again been strongly denied by masterplan leadership team chair Chris Hanley. He told The Echo there was ‘never any confusion because the group never discussed cutting down trees’.
It’s a conflicting position within the report; SINC Solutions claim the masterplan leadership team met on the same day as the trees were cut down. Opening comments from the chair at the meeting were that ‘the community feels ignored and the leadership team is being associated with actions they know nothing about.’
The Echo asked Greens Cr Michael Lyon, who voted to commission the audit, the following questions:
Given the former GM will not be held to account over this matter, have you a suggestion to future-proof Council from this situation happening again? It appears a rogue GM can get away with anything.
This situation was somewhat unique in that the GM was trying to get some things done before moving on. This wouldn’t normally be the case. It appears the report highlights the need for better consultation/notification and makes recommendations to this effect. Hopefully better judgment will be exercised by future GMs when it comes to the need for consultation.
Do you agree this report conflates the role of the masterplan group in the cutting down of trees and vaguely implicates them?
No I don’t think it implicates them. I think the masterplan group had every right to want projects progressed; however, the former GM used this as an excuse to do something that, had the proper consultation occurred, probably would not have gone ahead.
Did you believe at the time an audit would be so costly? Were you aware of the estimated cost?
No, and the fees we pay to consultants for various works is a separate issue that we as a council need to look into further. On this particular report you mentioned in the paper at the time that it was good we rejected the initial staff report; however, we do need to weigh the balance of whether certain things need to be followed up or not, particularly in this case with the GM retiring anyway. It is not a precise science, and while in hindsight it may have been better to spend the money planting more trees, we couldn’t have known that at the time.