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This was the Council Meeting. Absent: Mayor Byrne & Clr Phillips. The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Notice of Motion to remove a Celtis australis (Hackberry) street tree outside 3 Calvert Street Marrickville – I have written about the Notice of Motion & the tree here – & in July 2010 here –

Council’s report in brief – “vertical cracking between letterbox & gate up to 10mm width, no evidence of foundation related damage to the external front wall & hence no damage to the wall related to the Council tree, garden beds had been built up behind the fence causing outwards lateral forces on the fence, not clear that the root has caused the damage to the fence, no obvious evidence of other damage directly related to the tree roots.”

The resident who wants the tree removed spoke: The issue of the tree is important to me because of the damage the tree has caused & will continue to cause & the risks to my family’s safety. I know it’s the largest tree in the street. The fact that I can’t shut my gate, I’m not happy about that. I contracted a report about the tree, which recommended removing & replacing. Council wants to retain the tree & monitor. This disregards my family’s safety. As a father, my family’s safety is most important. He presented a petition – from residents in the street who want the tree removed. People would have sent you letters. They would have got this information from Saving Our Trees. It was filled with false & misleading information, not based on professional information & should be disregarded. I wrote to her & challenged her to correct her readers & I have yet to hear back from her.

Clr Hanna: Moved to remove the tree. The Doctor came 18 months ago & said they had been talking to Council since 2010. I went to the street & looked at the damage. I spoke to staff 2 months later in July [2010] who told me the tree is to be removed in 2-3 weeks.  He [staff] gave the period of 28th July 2010 to 21st August 2010. In August the resident visited me & said Council was not going to remove the tree. I am close to finding out who is responsible for not removing the tree. (Clr Hanna then mentioned a staff member’s name). How can we promise residents & then take it back? A pensioner was crying over his fence. The doctor here says he is not against a tree. This tree should be in a park, not in a street. Only last week we were talking about the safety for riders – what about the safety of residents?

This is Marrickville Council's photo of the Calvert Street tree with leaves

Clr Thanos: I support Clr Hanna. The test for me is whether the tree is causing damage. If it is, then it should be removed. It’s pretty rough when residents offer to pay to remove a tree or cry.  I acknowledge that removing the tree will cost $24,000. One problem is that damage can’t be known for the future. A lot of trees have been planted too close to properties.  People invest their whole lives in their properties.  This is a very large impost on private residents to cover the costs. I know it often comes down to the insurer. Council has put the resident in significant financial disadvantage because of damage they have caused.  Asking residents to take a chance on root barriers is a lot to ask.

Clr Olive: Foreshadowed motion – that Council repairs the fence. Page 24 [of Councils’ report] says it’s not clear that the tree is causing the damage to the fence.  I suspect someone has tarted up the house to sell to this resident. The garden is built up behind the fence. The photos show no problems to the building, the small crack in the step is normal shrinkage. Report says Council don’t think damage is caused by the tree. The fence is not leaning inwards, it is leaning outwards.

Clr O’Sullivan: I personally inspected the tree & looked at the patterns of tree planting in the local streets. This tree is distinctive because there are hardly any trees & those there are are hodge-podge. It’s a Celtis, an ancient Mediterranean tree native to Spain & Turkey & thrives in a dry environment.  The tree is very deep rooting. I looked at the consulting firm report – [says] long-term root growth may cause damage. While we may spend a small amount to retain it, but it may cost more in the long-term.  My view is that it is correct to remove the tree. It is not a native. Amendment – Remove & replace with a tree with a quality canopy when mature. There was a distinctive tree on a corner near me that was removed before I was a Councillor, but it hasn’t been replaced. This tree, Celtis australis can live for 1,000 years.

Clr Peters: Concerned with the removal of this tree. We paid $45,000 to remove a tree in Stanmore.  Have a look at the house. The cracks are bigger now.  I have to be pragmatic as the numbers seem to be against the tree. Add to the amendment that the opportunity be sought to plant trees in the street so we don’t plant in an ad hoc way & that these trees be planted at the same time. If you would be prepared to accept that, then I’ll agree to the tree being removed.  Clr Macri: issue also for pedestrians. The concrete slab is dangerous. I support Clr Peters. There is a number of planting opportunities in the street for trees. We could neaten up the street.

Clr Hanna:  In one email you will get that a lot of residents were not happy to be named. Whoever wrote this [that people want this tree retained] on the website [Saving Our Trees] will need to prove it.    (I did not manage to take notes of the next bit of Clr Hanna’s closing speech, but I remember it as something like the following).  SoT [Saving Our Trees] made this up. Where are the people that want the tree?  1 person came to my shop, but they didn’t want their name mentioned.  I understood Clr Hanna to infer that SoT was the only source of information that people wanted this tree retained & SoT was therefore misleading the public.   Carried unanimously.

What this process demonstrated is that if the community are to be heard in their attempt to save a street tree, then the approach we take needs to be different.  It’s been a good learning experience.

My next post will be a guest editorial about the process of decision-making adopted regarding this tree.

Showing the damage to the Calvert Street fence from July 2010 to July 2011

Community tree preservation groups Save Our Figs Wauchope & Save Our Figs Group have a big fight on their hands with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council who intend to remove 13 Fig trees in the town centre “to prevent future damage to private property & public infrastructure.” The roots of the Fig trees are presenting a trip hazard & 3 residents have complained of damage to their property they say was caused by the trees.

These 2 massive Figs next to Marrickville Youth Resources Centre enhance the building & the area.

Thing is, the Council have just completed major works on the streets with the trees described as the centerpiece.  Importantly, 3 years ago the community fought to retain these trees & won.

Now the threat of litigation has reared its head & if history is anything to go by, a very small number of people are going to get their way & have the trees removed.  Council can’t take the risk that people will start litigation in the future.

A couple of days ago I posted that Goondiwindi Regional Council chopped down healthy Fig trees despite community opposition.  It’s the same story.  Now that the trees are gone, the Council has made the decision to spend $96,000 on floating footpaths.  They are doing this now because they, “understand how important these trees are to residents.”

Using floating footpaths means the trees can grow normally. There is no need to cut off or shave down roots, nor cover them in bitumen.  Nor will they need to chop the trees down because of a trip hazard or damage to footpaths. Seems like sensible spending to me.  Given that any large healthy tree can be worth around $100,000, spending money to keep them is a good economic decision.

This Fig is literally holding the building up. There is no visible damage to the exterior of the building

The large street trees in the centre of both these towns are what bring beauty & a sense of place. The towns use their street trees as a tourist draw card.  The Fig trees also provide a tangible history & are held dear by most of the community.

Take the trees away & you have substantially changed a place. Not only have you removed things that are worth a great deal of money & with 13 Figs we are talking in excess of a million dollars, but their loss will have an impact on spending in the shops. Researchers have concluded 11% more money is spent in shopping areas where there are big healthy shady trees.  To their credit Port Macquarie-Hastings Council plans to replace the Figs with 11 advanced Brush Box trees.

My question is why don’t Councils or organizations take pre-emptive action on their big trees when the trees are in areas that could damage property or cause trip hazards?  Ultimately it is worth the financial outlay when one considers how much these trees are worth in a monetary sense. Then there are all the other factors to take into consideration, history, place, future, community cohesion (fights like these in small towns could escalate into severe divisions), trust in the Council/organisation & stating the obvious, climate change.

These roots have infiltrated a parking area. I found it interesting is to see that the roots didn't travel far from the tree despite its size. It has been like this for years & the tree is still healthy even though cars park on the roots, proving it is unnecessary to remove a tree when this happens. It might look unsightly, but the tree itself is gorgeous.

Root barriers can be put in place.  Sewerage & water pipes can be replaced with pipes that can’t be invaded by tree roots or re-routed & be done with the problem forever. In Canada, they use a system that allows pipes to be replaced without digging, disturbing or damaging tree roots. They use a water flushing vacuum system to remove the soil from around the roots, pipes or wires, then install the new pipes & put the soil back in.

You don’t even need to put in concrete foundations near a tree when you are building anymore.  Again in Canada, they insert giant steel screw piles into the ground that are just as stable as concrete foundations & require no digging.

There is also a high-density plastic grid system that I have seen used in Sydney.  Once laid over the ground the grid disperses the weight of vehicles over a larger area. The grid also prevents soil compaction, which can damage roots.  Best of all, the grid allows rainwater to permeate the soil, reducing the need for irrigation & improves storm-water management. Ground cover or other plants can be grown in the spaces within the grid.

The grid also prevents soil erosion. I can see these grids used to support riverbanks & to create cement-free car parks. They could also be used to channel water into the ground near a street tree rather than be wasted by pouring down drains.  There is no reason why a section of the gutter cannot be a grid.

There is also porous concrete used across City of Sydney & North Sydney Councils.  Porous concrete provides a seamless surface allowing people to walk across it, but still captures any rainwater that falls on it, watering the tree.

There are quite a number of beautiful Figs in Marrickville LGA & many of them are planted near buildings. Unfortunately many of these trees live in less than perfect conditions with cement & bitumen almost to the base of their trunk. Many have cars & trucks parked right next to them. As we have seen, it is only a matter of time before branches get gouged or broken off by trucks.

Canary Island Palms line Graham Avenue Marrickville. I hope these trees are heritage protected.

The only reason why money isn’t spent on protecting trees before problems start is that trees are not held in high importance or the Council is so strapped for money that understandably, urban forest issues get moved down the list of priorities.

Many Councils do hold their trees in high esteem & look after them. They use floating footpaths & permeable rubber surfaces or permeable ‘solid’ surfaces. They put garden beds around trees to prevent or limit the amount of vehicles that can park under them. They put ‘no parking’ signs for vehicles over a certain size & weight & they do other things like prune dead branches & normal die back. They probably feed them occasionally as well.

I would do all of the above & if property damage occurred with people saying get rid of the tree/s, I would think it is the community’s & Council’s best interest to fix the damage (within reason, once proof & access has been given to Council) & put things in place to ensure the problem won’t repeat itself.  Too many people & future generations miss out for cracks to walls & pipes, both which are easily fixed without costing as high as the value of losing a tree.

Trees are the only things Councils own that increase in value each year.

I have written about clay soils & how they affect buildings at –

You can read both stories at the following links –

3 new street trees are up for removal by Marrickville Council, this time in Station Street Petersham.  One tree is a Eucalyptus scoparia (Wallangarra White Gum) outside number 45.  Marrickville Council’s notification says: Tree is dead. It will be replaced with Melaleuca linariifolia (Flaxleaf Paperbark),  a native with perfumed, white flowers in early summer & creamy white papery bark.

A second tree is a Eucalyptus sideroxlon (Ironbark) is outside number 67B Station Street Petersham.  Marrickville Councils notification says: “Tree is in decline with significant amounts of dieback in the canopy.  Exceeded its Safe Useful Life. Council intends to replace it with Gordonia axillaris (Fried Egg Plant).  This tree has dappled, orange/brown bark & large white flowers (10cm or 4″ across) with prominent golden stamens.  It flowers from autumn to spring & has glossy, dark green leaves with red tips in winter.

There are no details for the tree outside number 59 Station Street because of an error with the pdf.  I have notified Council about this.  I will post about this tree once I have the details & post photos of the trees after I have visited them.

The deadline for submissions is 12th April 2010.

Damaged street tree in Station Street Petersham

Last week I saw a street tree in dreadful condition on the corner of Station & Brighton Streets.  I would bet it is one of the above.  It had a large chunk of bark stripped from its trunk & had other deep gashes from repeated hits perhaps from close parking by a truck.

In past weeks I have written about Richard Pennicuik & his tree sit-in to save a street tree outside his home in Thornlie Perth.  Last week he came down after spending 110 days & nights in the street tree.  At 2 am on March 29th 2010 Cameron Johnson & another man climbed the street tree outside Mr Pennicuik’s house vowing to remain & continue the protest to save this street tree.   All 3 men dispute Gosnell Council’s assessment that the tree is dangerous.

Personally, I don’t know understand how City of Gosnells Council can continue to say this tree is dangerous after it managed to remain undamaged & standing after last week’s extraordinarily ‘once in every 50 years’ severe storm, but perhaps it’s a matter of principle in their minds.  The City of Gosnells Council’s insistence that the tree be chopped down says a lot about how much influence they allow the community who disagree with their ideas on how to manage the area.

Surely Gosnells Council has other alternatives than simply chopping the tree down? Why can’t a couple of truly independent Arborists come & assess the tree?  Perhaps they have but I have not seen reported news about this.  At least with people sitting in the tree, it is less likely that someone will vandalize the tree to ensure it needs to be removed.

Richard Pennicuik’s action has attracted a massive amount of threatening, aggressive comments from anonymous public on news web-sites.  I fail to understand why one man’s commitment to a tree results in such hatred & vilification from people who don’t know him, the tree or the history of this tree.  His action was non-violent & this itself is deserves applaud.

It would have been a different story if he had sat in the tree armed with bazookas threatening to kill anyone who came near the tree.  He didn’t.  All he did was sit in the tree for 110 days & nights.  The fact that others who came to visit behaved in a way that distressed the neighbourhood was not Mr Pennicuik’s fault.

I admire the passion & commitment of Richard Pennicuik & the new people who have taken up the fight to save this tree.  I doubt there would be many people who would do this, even if they were totally against the removal of a tree.  Mr Pennicuik says he is seriously thinking of standing for the next council elections.



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