Ballina Shire Council last night reaffirmed its decision to remove a possibly 200-year-old Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Castle Drive, Lennox Head in a move that is destined to divide the community.
While the tree stands on council land its roots have been blamed for disruption and cracking in a neighbouring home.
Mayor David Wright told Echonetdaily that while he was desperately disappointed to see the fig tree go, the council had exhausted all other options.
In a Catch22-type situation, the council’s insurance company said that if a root barrier was installed it would no longer cover council’s public liability over the tree; if the tree was left as it is, the company would not meet any further damages claims from the neighbouring property.
Cr Wright said while the council had commissioned various reports into the causes of cracking and damage, including ground-penetrating x-rays, the smoking gun was revealed when the driveway was dug up.
‘There were massive roots under there, some measuring as much as 10 centimetres,’ he said. ‘That’s as thick as someone’s thigh.’
He added that established caselaw did not go in council’s favour either.
‘We could have bought two houses – that’s about $1.7-$1.8 million – that’s about the only way you could do it,’ he said.
He’s hopeful it’s a decision he may never have to take again.
‘Since 1980, developer with a fig tree on their property has to put a 50-metre buffer around it, that’s how much we want to protect fig trees but this one of course didn’t have that.’
Cr Wright said a date had yet to be set for the axing of the tree but local residents will be out in force whenever that is.
A local opponent of the decision, Sherrie Yeomans, told Echonetdaily there were ‘feelings of disbelief last night that the council have still voted to cut the stunning Castle drive fig down’.
‘Thank you to the councillors who spoke so well in her favour Phil Meehan, Keith Williams, Sharon Parry and Jeff Johnson,’ she said.
Ms Yeomans added she was ‘astounded’ that of the evidence and solutions as given to council on April 29, ‘not one of these options have been investigated’.
‘I am stunned that last night in council lawyers, a number of engineers, insurance representative were all there to represent the council [decision] to cut down the fig
‘Veteran Tree Group offered their service for free, council did not even contacted them.
‘Last night in the council chambers it was a circus of fantasised figures, a huge lack of factual evidence and clearly people who are not lovers of nature or trees.
‘We’ve had enough of the wool being pulled over our eyes and council making decisions that the community don’t want or need to happen.
‘This is not the end of The Castle Drive fig,’ Ms Yeomans said.
Another local resident and longstanding opponent of the tree’s removal, Jenny Grinlington, has told local media she didn’t think the community got much of a look-in at yesterday’s meeting.
‘I’m feeling stunned, sad and like perhaps there could be other ways we could still approach this problem: the tree still stands, so there is still hope,’ she told ABC radio this morning.
‘We can look at a legal option. Beyond that, I get a pretty strong feeling – given what this meeting’s been like – that we will always battle against a majority of councillors feeling they can’t support the tree staying up.
‘Really tonight the community have much of a chance to give their views but they’ll probably hear them when the chainsaws come to cut the tree down,’ she said.