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VCAT goes out on a limb


June 20, 2018 by admin

When it comes to emotive issues, trees come not far behind animal cruelty and abused children.

A crowded public gallery at a Casey Council meeting last month was proof enough of that.

That morning, council contractors had removed three trees from a row of 28 spotted gums in Old Coach Road. The trees, which Peter Lawton planted in 1966, were on Casey’s first register of significant trees, which the state government had approved less than two months earlier.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has issued an interim protection order to stop the council removing the remaining trees.

The parties involved – the Residents, Ratepayers and Friends of Berwick Village, the National Trust and the landowner who wants them removed, Lawrence De La Rue – will return to the hearing on September 24.

Mr De La Rue told the Weekly his wife was within two metres of being killed by a seven-metre branch that dropped from one of the trees four years ago. Recalling it makes him emotional. “Everybody wants me to put my family at risk. It’s akin to me dangling my grandchildren over the side in Western Port while the sharks are circling.”

Members of Casey’s conservation advisory committee, who spent almost five years working on the tree register, are watching the debate with concern. Spotted gums are common throughout Casey’s public spaces, including shopping centre car parks, mainly because they are regarded as safe and useful street trees.

“If these ones go, the door opens for anyone to ask for a spotted gum to be removed,” says Hampton Park resident Tony O’Hara, a member of the committee.

While conspiracy theories abound, Mr O’Hara plumps for the alternative. “I think it was definitely a stuff-up. People inside the council just did not realise what was going on and they need to talk to one another. If they realise they’ve made a mistake and start to take note of the register before they make promises to anyone, then something will have been achieved out of the whole sorry mess.”

At the council meeting, Cr Judy Owen, one of two council representatives on the conservation advisory committee, was anxious to stress that the protesters were not “greenies”. “They’re people who care about how we’re going to leave our bit of the world. They’ve used blood, sweat and tears to go out and form this area.”

She said she could not understand why the council would value the opinion of a single resident over half a community that wanted to keep the trees and four arborists’ reports that stated the trees are healthy. She stressed it was not a Berwick issue. “It’s a Casey issue – we have to decide where we’re going next with trees.”

Cr Geoff Ablett agrees. “This isn’t just an Old Coach Road issue,” he told the Weekly. “It’s a Casey issue. We got the planning wrong on trees. We shouldn’t be planting 200-feet gums, as good as they are. It’s just ridiculous.”

He stresses that he’s not anti-tree. “I grew up in the country and I love trees. But I don’t want to put myself in the position of saying to someone these trees are safe and six months later there’s an injury. I don’t want it on my conscience.

Even Mr De La Rue, who is scathing about what he referred to as “the nuffies”, is a tree-lover. “I love trees, I care for the country – but there’s an appropriate place for trees.”


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