At last week’s November 23 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, six councillors – Baker, Williamson, Toms, Lysaught, Simmons and Kingsley – voted to ignore advice from CVC’s senior environmental health officer, to retain trees inline with the Townsend industrial area’s development control plan (DCP).
Councillors were considering an application “for a variation to Jubilee Street, Townsend, controls, under Part M of the Industrial Zones DCP, to clear part of the designated buffer area for road widening, access and servicing of the proposed” two-lot subdivision.
The council officer supported the requested variation “to permit clearing of vegetation for the provision of access and servicing from Pine Avenue”, however, the officer qualified the recommendation, advising in the report to council that the DA can “be approved under delegated authority subject to the provision of a 25-metre-wide vegetated buffer along the eastern boundary”.
By the time it came to making a final decision, however, Cr Andrew Baker (with strident support from the mayor, Jim Simmons) had succeeded in removing any provisions to limit the removal of the existing trees.
Instead, the six supportive councillors approved the DA “subject to [the tabled] draft advices and conditions”.
In relation to the felling of the trees, the conditions stipulate that “mature trees must be inspected by a suitably qualified and experienced professional to determine that no fauna or fauna habitat features (nests, dreys) are present or active” and that “any felled trees should be placed on the ground as habitat features and not removed”.
An “experienced professional” must be present for the trees’ removal, “to ensure the potential for fauna injury or mortality is reduced”.
“In the event that fauna are present and require care, fauna must be transported to local wildlife carers or a local veterinary hospital,” the draft conditions state.
The council officer’s recommendation suggested to councillors that they had the option to “allow the applicant to clear the vegetation in the southwestern corner”, however, “to ameliorate the loss of vegetation,” the officer advised to “request the applicant to undertake offsetting in accordance with Council’s Biodiversity Offset Policy”.
Had councillors adopted this strategy, it would have required, “revegetation and protection” by “planting on-site [and] reinstating a 25-metre-wide vegetated buffer along the eastern boundary”, or “accepting a contribution to the CVC Biodiversity Offset Trust Fund … through a voluntary planning agreement”.
During debate, Cr Baker argued that “we need to keep in mind that, in trying to impose conditions that [are] at odds with the overall intent of the industrial zone, we’ve got to remember that CVC has already identified that the industrial zone needs to go further east of this industrial lot”.
He said, “we should look at the larger picture”, rather than just focussing on the confines of the block itself.
“If we examine what a buffer should be, this would just be a finger of trees with no under-vegetation, just a fingerful of remaining trunks that adjoin a new industrial area.”
He argued that to retain the trees in this case would be “detrimental to the overall intent of this council in its LEP [local environment plan] and its protection of industrial lands”.
Cr Clancy reiterated staff’s recommendation and cited the relevant parts of the development control plan (DCP), regarding the “protection of native vegetation in the industrial zone”.
“It’s quite clear in the DCP; we should be protecting this vegetation and adding to the 25-metre buffer … we have clear guidance,” he said.
Mayor Jim Simmons said he “drove over the block last Friday and went and had another look yesterday”.
“I didn’t see any or very much vegetation on the boundary of the allotment,” he said.
“…I’m not sure I need to say more than that … I’m not sure I want koalas running around an industrial block.”
Cr Peter Ellem said he thought Cr Clancy was “correct” and that the “DCP makes it pretty clear”.
He said that if the trees were to be removed that he “still believed there needs to be some biodiversity offset … somewhere else in the valley”.
During his right of reply, Cr Baker referred to a Cr Clancy comment, that the shade of the trees could be used for shade as part of a workers’ lunch area.
“These trees are called widow makers for good reason; limbs drop with not reason whatsoever,” he said.
When Cr Clancy called a point of order – saying Cr Baker is “scaremongering” – mayor Simmons supported Cr Baker and said, “he was mentioning specifically that limbs fall off gum trees”.