Failure to debate tree future sparks residents’ anger
THIS story included a number of comments which were cut from the story in today's Daily Examiner because of space constraints.
ANGRY Maclean residents feel Clarence Valley Council has denied them a chance to have a say over the future of four historic camphor laurel trees in the town centre.
At its Tuesday meeting the council was to debate a notice of motion from Cr Margaret McKenna to overturn a decision to remove all the trees and retain the three northernmost trees as the part of the redevelopment of McLachlan Park.
Cr McKenna's motion was the first item of business discussed at the meeting.
But the debate on an issue that has been the subject of debate of four reports to council, lasted a couple of minutes, when none of the other eight councillors could bring themselves to second the motion.
Cr McKenna's notice of motion also included tabling a petition containing more than 1500 signatures of people opposed to the removal of the trees.
This was a slap in the face for more than 35 residents who packed the gallery in the Maclean Council Chambers to witness the debate.
A vocal opponent of the proposed tree removal, Hariet Woodrow, said council was pushing ahead with the removal of the trees without adequately informing or consulting the community.
"They've never said in any of their planning they want to remove all four trees," she said. "It's always been one tree, or two trees, they've never asked us if we want no trees at all."
She said the failure of a councillor to second the motion displayed a disrespect of the people who came to the meeting and contempt for the Maclean community.
Another disgruntled resident, Julie McKenzie, said council had proposed planting Port Jackson figs or red cedar trees where the camphor laurels grow.
"They are spectacularly the wrong choice to be planted in that position," Mrs McKenzie said.
"The red cedar is a forest tree and needs a canopy of trees to grow in and the Port Jackson fig has the most invasive root system. It would be a disaster for the levee system."
The president of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group, Ian McLennan, said the lack of debate reflected disrespect for the Maclean community.
He said even if the motion had been debated and beaten, people would have seen the motivation of the councillors for removing the trees.
"These trees have been in the town for 112 years," he said. "There's been no public consultation about removing all four of them.
"That proposal was never in any of the plans we've had put to us. It's always been removing one tree or two.
"By failing to debate this matter the councillors have effectively saved themselves from public consultation on the issue and avoided confrontation with residents."
Mr McLennan said he had surveyed park 500 park users and his survey showed 80% wanted to keep the trees as they are.
"Another 10% wanted them removed and 10% had no opinion," he said.
"That's separate to the 1500 people who signed the petition to save the trees. Not debating the motion has taken away their voices as well."
Cr McKenna said the failure of one of her colleagues to second her motion was frustrating.
"Just out of professional courtesy I expected someone to second the motion," she said.
Cr McKenna was also frustrated because her notice of motion escaped debate in the committee meetings on a technicality.
There were also deputations to the committee on this issue from members of the public.
"The committee decided to defer debate because I was not on the standing committee where the motion was raised, so I could not speak to it," she said.
Cr McKenna said she would have been happy for the motion to be debated in committee, even though her role was limited to asking questions.
"The chairman ruled my questions out of order because they did not refer to the motion, which was to defer the matter," she said.
Cr McKenna was not confident her motion would succeed, but she thought the debate should have gone ahead.
"It's a matter of transparency of decision making and showing courtesy to the people of the town who are concerned about this issue," she said.
Mayor Richie Williamson said it was fundamentally incorrect to say there had been no debate on this matter.
"The removal of the trees, which are noxious weeds, was adopted by the Maclean Shire in the early 2000s," he said.
"Obviously last night there was no appetite for another discussion of the matter."
He said council had debated the issue at least four times in the past 12 months.
Cr Williamson said a point often lost in this issue is the council's role as manager the Clarence Coast Reserve Trust, which has the control of McLachlan Park.
"Because of this role, we act on behalf of the people of NSW and the plan of management put forward has been approved by the government and the minister," he said.
"That document calls for the removal of the four camphor laurel trees and has done so since the early 2000s at least."
The Mayors said the council had not decided yet on what species of tree would replace the camphor laurels.
Cr Williamson said the re-development of McLachlan Park was a $1.3 million project which will leave Maclean with a magnficent facility.
"I am confident it will be an area we can all be very proud of," he said.