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Soldiers Point under attack – death by a thousand cuts

Why does it appear that some property owners cite a potential fire risk so they can clear vegetation? In many cases it is clearly substantiated but in others, especially where water views are a factor, it is not as convincing.

Many of us on the Tomaree Peninsula have witnessed the apparently indiscriminate removal or poisoning of trees in our neighbourhoods. It is obvious, as happened in Nelson Bay and Boat Harbour, that there is often no other reason than they obstruct those million dollars views. 

In the recently high profile incident at Soldier’s Point, Port Stephens Council (PSC) had sanctioned, on the request from Bannisters Hotel, the extensive cutting back of tree branches, saplings and other vegetation between the Hotel and Seaview Crescent. 

This action undertaken by Bannisters’ contractors, and with no prior consultation with the local community, has caused a lot of distress for the Soldiers Point – Salamander Bay Landcare Group and other concerned locals who have spent years looking after the bushland reserve here.

A Council spokesman said  ‘Council conducts vegetation management on a risk basis. If trees on Council land pose a risk and the adjoining landowner is willing to pay to conduct vegetation management sooner than we are able to, we allow this.’

Does this statement perhaps indicate that this site was not a high priority for undertaking hazard reduction as it already contains a cleared zone around the hotel? Furthermore, earlier this year, several Landcare members accompanied officers of the Rural Fire Service who inspected the Asset Protection Zone and expressed the view that there was no fire danger to the hotel at that time.

Local resident Cherylle Stone is outraged that Council authorised Bannisters’ contractors to lollipop or cut down so many trees and saplings. ‘The forest is only 50 metres wide, separated by a good 40 metres of grass from any building. Most of the understorey and ground cover have been destroyed. Death by a thousand cuts,’ she said.

The insensitive way this work was carried out also caused collateral damage to ground cover plants which the Landcare group have been working hard to care for. The undergrowth that was cited as creating a fire risk had been removed earlier this year.

The ‘lollipop’ method of pruning a tree leaves unsightly stubs which can expose it to disease or decay, disfigures the tree from its natural shape and eventually weakens its growth leading to … another good excuse for those who want to remove it!

The members of Soldiers Point – Salamander Bay Landcare have protested to Council about the inconsistencies in allowing Bannisters to trim the trees and bushes around their hotel. Areas of bushland closest to the hotel on the southern side have not been touched while areas to the east, at least 25m away from any building but with Bay views, have been extensively lopped. Council has committed to further consultation with the Landcare Group – shame this was not undertaken prior to commencement of work. 

Kathy Brown, a member of Soldiers Point-Salamander Bay Landcare Group, is concerned that Bannisters are able to keep working in the area while Landcare members cannot because of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. The Group has asked Council to ensure that no further work is carried out until Council officers, along with Landcare members, can do a site visit.

The Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association (TRRA) will also be pursuing this issue yet again with Council. It appears to be a good illustration of what TRRA has long considered to be major flaws in Council’s tree management policies. Unless such matters are addressed through policy and consultation, it will always be a case of ‘too little too late’ once the deed is done.

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Published: 3 Aug 2021