Fig trees in dispute: 190-year old heritage listed tree in Raymond Terrace to remain

The Port Jackson tree that is in dispute.

The Port Jackson tree that is in dispute.

A battle is brewing in Raymond Terrace between members of the historical society and the preservation group over the future of a small clump of trees whose roots are being blamed for building damage.

The four hill-sweeping fig trees are located on Department of Education land outside of the public school fence and adjacent to Sketchley's Cottage, home of the Raymond Terrace and District Historical Society.

Historical society president Ken Barlow said that roots from the trees have protruded through the flooring of the besser-block cottage and must be removed to halt further damage.

Members of the Boomerang Park Preservation Group fighting to save the trees argue the roots can be chopped off to stop them spreading.

The arbiter, Port Stephens Council, would not be drawn on the dispute, saying there are currently a number of trees being assessed "based on their poor health or impact to adjacent infrastructure".

Steven Peart, strategy and environment manager, said the council continuously assess the need to prune or remove trees on council managed land based on the level of risk.

"At this point in time, no decision has been made as to whether trees will be removed, or how many," he said.

Mr Barlow, meanwhile, says the situation is becoming critical: "We love trees just as much as anyone else but it has almost got to a point where we may have to either shut our doors after 50 years or save the building.

"We have contacted the school and the council about the problem and we had engineers quote $64,000 to remediate the structural damage to the building, which is money we haven't got."

Preservation group president Coral Berry said the four trees were healthy and it was hoped an alternative to chopping them down could be found.

"It is an unfortunate situation and perhaps the council could look at digging through the roots and poisoning the tips to stop any further growth."

Heritage practitioner Chris Richards said that he was equally concerned about the heritage value of the four figs which adjoin two listed properties on council's Local Environmental Plan: Sketchley's Cottage and the school.

"These trees cannot be removed unless a statement of heritage impact is undertaken," he said. "They have been assessed by an arborist who places them in an excellent condition accepting for one tree in the middle, which could be cabled to the other trees."

A nearby Port Jackson tree, believed to be close to 190 years old located at the corner of Adelaide and Sketchley streets, has also come under council scrutiny. Mr Peart said the tree was heritage listed and under constant assessment due to its poor vigour, but there had been no decision to remove it.

"There will be minor pruning of small branches due to obscuring the traffic lights."

Mr Richards claims the Port Jackson had been affected by council's use of herbicides and recommended the soils be tested for the herbicide glyphosate, which is known to "move in sandy soils thereby entering the water table causing further environmental damage".

"This tree is now showing excellent signs of recovery and with proper care will fully recover according to a local arborist. It is also listed under council's Raymond Terrace 'Flying-fox Camp Plan of Management' policy as a food source for flying fox colonies."

Earlier in the month, council removed a large ficus benjamina located on the corner of Wahroonga and Adelaide street "due to ongoing damage to the footpath and the potential risk to pedestrians".

Mr Peart said the tree was removed after council had received several insurance claims for trip hazards and the path was within the structural root zone of the tree.