Ballina’s deputy mayor is still hoping a last-minute change of heart by councillors will save the old fig tree at Lennox Head that they recently voted to remove.
A hoped-for reprieve, in the form of evidence of pre-existing Aboriginal heritage significance lodged with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), has not materialised.
But Keith Williams hasn’t given up hope, saying an on-ground archaeological exploration, called for by Ballina MP Tamara Smith, has yet to be conducted.
Still, the odds are stacked against the tree, with a majority of Ballina councillors voting at its last meeting to remove it and the council’s insurance company vetoing the use of root barriers as a way of securing its future.
Councilllors voted to remove the tree after its roots were blamed for cracks in the walls and driveway at an adjoining property, with council’s insurer agreeing to foot the bill – but only if it was removed.
But a large community support campaign has been looking at ways of trying to retain the tree, which could be up to 200 years old.
Cr Williams is investigating the possibility of a further arborist’s report that could accurately age the tree.
‘That could be a factor in its heritage significance,’ he said.
‘Certainly, the evidence that I’ve been presented with indicates it’s probably over 200 years old and therefore predates European settlement. In my view that makes the tree significant.’
Cr Williams said that despite the insurance company’s reluctance, several arborists have indicated it would be possible to successfully create a root barrier around the tree.
‘if we can get a root barrier that is going to work in terms of protecting the house, then in my view the only argument for removing the tree is one about insurance.
‘Council’s insurers say we would be compromising the root structure of the tree with a root barrier but I actually think that’s entirely wrong.
‘We’ve got very clear, high-level arborist’s advice from people who actually move fig trees, saying it’s’ quite easy to put the root barrier in provided you go through some steps to prepare the tree before you cut those roots.’
‘I think council off it’s own bat should be investigating the root barrier rather than looking at removal.’
Interim protection order
Cr Williams said he was concerned council had resolved to remove the tree while the minister had yet to make a final decision on whether or not to grant an interim protection order.
While there is no further vote likely or rescission motion planned for the council’s upcoming meeting on Thursday (July 26), Cr Williams said there was still room for an urgency motion if any new information came to light that might change councillors’ minds.
‘We have debated this as an urgency motion in the past. We’ve also had extraordinary meetings about this tree as well, so I’m not sure we would pursue that option at this point.’
He added he was concerned that council staff could start on the tree’s removal at any time.
The previous motion to remove the tree was 6-4 in favour, so a further stay of execution would require two councillors to change their minds.