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Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

Ballina Shire Council accused of failing to protect old fig tree

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It appears the community have lost the battle to save the 200 year old Moreton Bay fig tree in Castle Drive Lennox Head. Photo Jenny Grinlington.

Ballina Council has not followed their own planning legislation to assess the environmental significance of a Lennox Head fig tree slated for removal, according to local planner John Sparks.

Yet a press release by Ballina Council on Friday says that with multiple specialist reports being commissioned, all options to retain the tree on Castle Drive have been exhausted.

It reads, ‘All identified options presented to Council were cost prohibitive and provided no assurance of success.’

Yet Sparks told Echonetdaily he is requesting Council lodge a Development Application (DA) for vegetation management, ‘As required in chapter two of their Development Control Plan (DCP) and by their Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2014.’

He’s also calling for the significant tree to be included in their Heritage Register ‘and change the zoning around the tree from R2 Low Density Residential to RE1 Public Recreation, similar to their zoning around other fig trees in the area.’

Independent Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson told Echonetdaily, ‘Back in December, I lodged an urgency motion with Ballina Shire Council requesting further investigations in an attempt to save this 200 year old fig, which is the standout natural feature of the Castle Drive locality.’

‘We are in this situation owing to poor planning decisions in the past that allowed a concrete slab on ground house to be constructed underneath the Fig’s canopy.

‘The area around the tree should have been declared a public reserve so that we wouldn’t be in this situation.

‘Something similar is now proposed with the new subdivision at Skennars Head where a 100 year old pine tree is facing the axe due to the developer not placing a value on these significant trees and the public’s desire to protect them.’

Tree vs Council

Sparks said, ‘The Ballina Environment Society would like to see this tree to act as a plaintiff against the Ballina Shire Council, based on the rights of the tree to defend itself and its significance to the natural ecosystem it has created over the last 200 years.’

The claim against Council and their insurance company would be for the costs of replacing the natural services and resources provided by this tree for the next 200 years of its life.

‘The Council decision to remove the fig tree relies on the laws of liability, both public and private, their rights of ownership and physical enjoyment of their environment as desired by the individual property owners.’

‘We are considering its options and may speak as guardians on behalf of the tree. Legal advice has been sought from the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO).

‘We would like to hold a ceremony to honour the spirit of the tree and take cuttings from the tree to transplant these so that the spirit of the tree lives on.’

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  1. Good on you John Sparks – the voice of reason in this debacle!! We need more people like you and Jenny Grinlington to protect this most beautiful tree. A very short sighted decision by Council – they may like to reassess their decision and values.

    • Why? If it is going to cost a Million Dollars to try to save it and it fails, you the ratepayer will be footing the bill.

      It is far better for Council to use the funds on roads etc., I for one would not want money spent on a tree that can be better spent elsewhere in the community.

  2. Shame on you Council. Unbelievable that such beauty can be so undervalued. Of course the tree should be on our heritage register…. and protected. It’s not like it can be replaced ‘with something similar’ for heavens sake.

  3. It is really sad, that more and more of the old trees are going in our towns.
    Look at the illegal tree removal at rail way park, Byron Bay
    We were disgusted on our first visit to Byron Bay, maybe 1971 as we witnessed the beautiful fig trees in Lawson street being cut down.
    The area would look so much better with them retained.
    It was an omen
    It looks like the vandals are in charge

  4. We purchased our home in Castle Drive partly because we loved this fig tree. We were perhaps naive enough to think that, given its age and size, there would not be much further growth, and that the council had allowed for the canopy and root system in its planning. In the initial subdivision the two blocks of land adjacent to the tree had quadrants carved out to preserve the tree in a Council controlled reserve. Pre-purchase inspection reports did not reveal any problem due to the tree.

    In the last 4 years the root system has expanded considerably towards our home.

    We now have considerable structural damage to our property due to uplifting by roots, not subsidence as some have suggested. The Council’s insurers have accepted liability, but will refuse any further claims. This also means no public liability cover.

  5. Given that, in hindsight, a Council development approval error was made back in the 1980s allowing subdivision to occur too close to this magnificent tree, what are the options now?

    1) Relocate the tree
    2) Construct a root barrier
    3) Council purchase and demolish the 2 affected properties.

    All three options, already considered by Council, are very expensive and the cost to Council would have to be borne by ratepayers. The first two also run the risk of the tree not surviving – a very costly failure.


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