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‘Business decision’ leads to trees’ demise

Geoff Helisma It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the valley’s councillors would support the immediate removal of the four camphor laurel trees at Maclean’s McLachlan Park. Councillors were aware before last Tuesday fortnight’s committee meetings that Clarence Valley Council’s general manager, Scott Greensill, would table a report at last week’s council meeting, recommending the trees’ removal – which prevented residents having a say before the decision was made. Only Cr Margaret McKenna was prepared to argue against the “timing” of the report’s tabling. “I will talk specifically about timing; today is another example,” she told her fellow councillors. “I find it poor timing that this matter has come directly to a council meeting and not given the community, once again, a chance to have a deputation.” Councillor McKenna was referring to a notice of motion, which failed to gain a seconder and was not debated as a result, which she made to the April council meeting – to acknowledge a Greater Maclean Community Action Group petition containing 1,500 signatures calling for the retention of three of the camphor laurel trees. Sections of the Maclean community were already upset about the new Vee Design Pty Ltd master plan released without public consultation on Friday July 10 – it replaced the King and Campbell draft master plan that was adopted in September 2014, following community consultation. At last week’s council meeting, before debate commenced, Cr Craig Howe asked works and corporate director Troy Anderson if the park’s plan of management (POM) stated “specifically that the trees need to be removed in a staged process”? Mr Anderson said the POM “refers to the investigation of a staged removal of the trees – council has done that with the current resolution [to retain two trees] that is on the table, however, the performance measure associated with the objective in the plan of management is still the removal of the trees”. “Hence, the recommendation today is a business-based decision, not one about the staged approval,” he said. Councillor Andrew Baker, who moved the officer’s recommendation (seconded by Cr Arthur Lysaght), said he was “mindful in moving this and … that this issue has been dealt with for years and years”. He said the council had “overdone the process” of consultation and planning, but “underdone the requirements of the POM for replacement” of the trees. Councillor Baker said he had been watching the process since 2002/3. “We’ve seen a lot of work, too much money and too much time spent on getting to where it is now,” he said “To go back and do anything but adopt this particular recommendation … would be putting off the inevitable, trying to appease some … attempt to … prevent moving forward.” Councillor Baker said the plan didn’t suit him and that he was “quite happy to vote against previous resolutions that saw two trees removed; in other words I voted against the removal of any trees”. “…It’s now about timing … get the pain and anxiety out of the way all in one go, or drag it out and increase the cost for some really unproductive reason,” he said. “…Now that the decision has been made, it’s time to get on with the recommended approach.” Councillor Margaret McKenna said it was the councillors’ “duty and obligation to give the community a chance to be heard”. “I feel they have been denied that right today,” she said. “…The community was never … consulted about removing the four trees. “…I haven’t heard any councillors, other than Cr Baker, talk of the noxious weed debate.” Councillor McKenna said she had never heard other councillors speak about why they “wanted two trees removed, let alone four”. She said that she told councillors, “at a recent workshop; ‘we’re now being told or asked to support the removal of all four in one fell swoop’”. She argued that the design consultants could have been instructed to complete the design, retaining two of the trees. “The design has been done and it’s going to be cheaper to get rid of the four trees now; again I think that’s a poor timing issue … underhanded in some respects, with regard to the situation that I feel … I’ve been put in today,” she said. Councillor McKenna said she could not support the recommendation because as a “matter of principal … it shouldn’t have come to us in this manner”. The mayor said he wasn’t intending to speak on the matter, but he couldn’t “leave items that are loose with the truth go without some form of rebuttal”. He said the Vee Design plan did allow for the staged removal of the other two trees. “To suggest otherwise, in my view anyway, is a little bit loose with the truth,” Cr Williamson said. “…We ask the general manager every meeting to find efficiencies [to] gain better outcomes. “There is an efficiency to be made here with public money. “The project will leave the state … with a park that the entire Clarence Valley, I believe, will be absolutely proud of.” He said the public consultation about the trees “has happened and started in 2003; surely there would have been public consultation in 2003 on the plan of management”. He said it was “absolutely up to every councillor to vote today how they feel fit”. “This decision is not about removing trees; that decision was made in 2003,” he said. “…The item before us represents … value for money and an opportunity to bring forward the completion of the park [with] … us acting as reserve trust managers for the state of NSW.” Councillors Karen Toms, Craig Howe and Jim Simmons also spoke in favour of removing the trees. A full recording of the council meeting can be heard in the podcast section of the council’s website.