An unkind cut that led to a record fine
February 2, 2011
IT WAS a DIY repair-job gone wrong that has now cost a Sydney man $19,000.
Peter Petrou, 43, was digging outside the house he shares with his parents and children in Randwick on July 31 last year, searching for a leaking pipe that was causing water to gush over his front steps and footpath, when he cut into what he described as a ”fat root” belonging to an old native brush box tree.
Although the cut did not kill the tree, it had to be removed, the council said, for safety reasons. Mr Petrou was ordered to pay $19,000 by Waverley Local Court for breaching a tree preservation order, thought to be the largest penalty of its kind ever issued in the local government area. ”It’s not like I was drilling holes in the night to get a view,” said Mr Petrou, who used to climb the tree when he was a child.
”It was just a duty-of-care issue. There’s kids that walk along that path, and my elderly parents use the front steps … I didn’t think one root could kill a tree.”
The mayor of Randwick, Murray Matson, a Green, applauded the hardline stance taken by the court, which he said would make others think twice in the future about damaging public trees.
“The presiding judge on the case, Justice Milledge, described the actions of the person as disgraceful, and I entirely agree,” he said in a statement. ”Trees not only beautify otherwise stark urban streets, but they offset carbon emissions, provide shade and attract native wildlife.”
The fine is believed to be the largest of its kind ever issued in the Randwick local government area, a council spokesman said.
Mr Petrou’s solicitor, Tim Mitchell, said the punishment was a ”denial of natural justice”.
”There was no malicious intent whatsoever,” he said.
A Randwick Labor councillor, Tony Bowen, said it would be preferable if the council could resolve these issues amicably and focus on educating residents instead.
”It’s a lot of money,” he said. ”It might be a better approach to have them replace the tree and receive some sort of modest fine.”