The illegal removal of an old growth tree at the Tallowood Ridge development in Mullumbimby has highlighted significant flaws in Council planning processes for the site, residents say.
Last month, Byron Council staff fined a home owner on the estate $3,000 for chopping down the tree in their backyard, which locals estimated to be between 50 and 100 years old.
But residents say the removal would never have happened in the first place if Council had included the tree in a protected zone rather than allowing it to be included in private property.
‘At the most basic level you have to wonder why you would let someone build a house directly underneath a tree like that,’ Tallowood resident and local ecologist Dave Rawlins said.
‘When you take a step back from this, it’s actually part of the ongoing loss of remnant bushland in the ridge as a result of poor council planning.’
The tree was part of the Moiball Spur, a traditional Aboriginal walking trail that stretches from Mount Chincogan to Koonyum Range and beyond, to one of the last patches of remnant rainforest in NSW.
The community has fought for two decades in a bid to save the tree-lined ridge, but has watched in dismay in recent years as it has been subdivided.
In some cases, this appears to run contrary to a 2010 ruling by the Land and Environment Court which required the protection of vegetation stands and associated fauna within and adjacent to the ridge line, which the court referred to as the ‘shelter belt’.
This is part of what residents say is a broader erosion of old-growth vegetation at Tallowood, including allowing this vegetation to be included in small suburban lots rather than be included in the shelter belt, preventing public access to the ridgeline and going back on a commitment to pursue larger lots to protect koala habitat as part of the sixth stage of the development.
A Council spokesperson said the land along the ridge top was in fact a ‘road reserve’ and was owned by Council.
‘Some works have previously occurred in the reserve in terms of plantings for environmental reasons and as a shelter belt as required…’ the spokesperson said.
‘Other areas of vegetated land not zoned for residential purposes and backing onto the ridgeline are in private ownership and currently held by the developer of the Tallowood Ridge Estate.
‘It is required to be managed for conservation purposes under the Tallowood estate masterplan.’