Council under fire over tree order
A Suffolk Park couple has accused Byron Council of using ‘schoolyard bullyboys' tactics in removing three trees they had planted on the nature strip outside their Bryce Street home.
Artist and designer Gabriel Rosati and David Hancock said the removal last Tuesday week by council workers of a large cycad and two dragon trees – with two police officers watching on – was the culmination of a year-long dispute.
It's a dispute that has seen the couple left with a $495 fine for obstructing the footpath which they say they are prepared to fight in court.
Ms Rosati said when they were building their home they were told by a building inspector they would have to alter plans for the roadside crossover after they had planted the five trees.
“We had our draughtsman alter the plans and took them to council,” she said.
“On the 31st of August 2009 the same inspector took our payment of $240 and signed the plans.”
Ms Rosati said they had received a letter from the council a month later that said only two of the trees were approved and the other three had to be removed.
She said they had refused to remove them ‘as we had a signed plan and receipt for it'.
The couple claimed a senior council officer had admitted the council had ‘stuffed-up', but despite their best efforts the council had made no attempts to resolve the issue through negotiation, she said.
Ms Rosati said in an ‘extraordinary waste of human and cash resources', council officers had made at least six visits to inspect and photograph the nature strip.
“We are on a first-name basis with the rangers who hand-deliver letters and photographs from the compliance department that are also posted to us on the same day,” she said.
“It's no wonder to us that council is broke. They use all our valuable rates monies to chase absolutely trivial matters – matters that could be resolved by humble negotiations.”
Ms Rosati said it was a joke that while the council was encouraging residents to beautify streets, they had engaged in an act ‘of such wanton destruction'. She said the council had told them the trees presented a safety issue, but that was an ‘absolute nonsense' because the same species were on the other side of the street and the council itself had planted cycads around Mullumbimby.
Mr Hancock said the dispute was ‘totally unnecessary' and a waste of ratepayers' money.
“Nobody (from council) is coming to us to say we made a mistake,” he said.
The council's general manager, Graeme Faulkner, said requests to remove the trees on the nature strip had been issued since the beginning of the year.
Mr Faulkner said the dragon trees and cycad were planted as mature trees by the residents and were not approved by the council.
"Assessed as unsuitable under council's planting and landscaping on footpaths and nature strips within road reserves and drainage easements policy, staff have requested on numerous occasions for the trees to be removed,” he said.
"The combination of height and spiny leaves could cause injury to people walking or cycling on the paths."
Mr Faulkner said as the trees had not been removed by the residents, it had resulted in a fine being issued and the council removing the trees.