Clarence Valley Council’s deputy mayor, Craig Howe, has taken a proactive approach to ascertain the future of four camphor laurel trees in McLachlan Park, Maclean, following the council’s rejection of tenders to upgrade the park at last month’s council meeting.
Councillors authorised staff to enter into negotiations with three of the tendering companies, with an aim to negotiate an outcome that fitted within the park’s redevelopment budget.
Councillor Howe called for comments on his ‘Craig Howe-contact the councillor’ Facebook page on September 21, stating: “If you live in Maclean I want to hear from you.
“I am told the majority of Maclean don’t [sic] want the Camphor Laurel trees removed.
“I am also aware some are unhappy with any money being spent on McLachlan Park at all, and others are unhappy with the design.
“Council has consulted and tried to get all groups wants into this design. I want to hear from the majority of Maclean.”
At the July council meeting, councillors supported a recommendation to remove all of the trees, overturning a previous decision to retain two trees.
Works director Troy Anderson told councillors at that meeting that “the recommendation [to remove four trees] today is a business-based decision”.
Councillor Howe asked respondents to answer the following questions: 1. Should there be a redevelopment of McLachlan Park? 2. Should the Camphors be removed? 3. Should there be a smaller, modified redevelopment?
When asked why he had decided to seek further community consultation, considering that the council’s position is that it had completed consultation on the project, Cr Howe said: “It’s coming back to the council in November regarding the tender situation.
“That means it’s open for comment. I personally saw it as an opportunity to consult with the community … and get people’s opinions before [I] make a decision.”
Councillor Howe said, apart from the comments on the Facebook page, that he had received “confidential comments, phone calls and personal messages” as a result of his pro-activity.
He acknowledged that the majority of responders wanted to retain the trees.
The Facebook thread revealed that around 55 comments wanted the trees to stay, seven wanted them removed and four were undecided.
Similarly, the majority of comments supported redevelopment, albeit around two thirds supported a smaller development
Councillor Howe said some of these comments centred “on the fact that people are not seeing value for money being spent on the park”; however, he pointed out that the project is financed by government grants and the sale of land at Cameron Park for the proposed IGA supermarket.
When asked why “Maclean residents, especially those … who are not [the type] to make a fuss but have an opinion”, – as per the FB page – had not spoken up during the council-facilitated community consultations, Cr Howe said: “That’s the nature of the beast – not only the camphor laurels. I think every issue the council deals with; the majority of people don’t say anything.”
He said this wasn’t “necessarily a reflection of a person’s motivation or apathy; more a reflection on the fact that people are busy”.
“People don’t engage with council, but that’s what I’m trying to achieve, to get greater engagement with people,” he said.