Hunter Valley couple go to court over neighbour’s tree

A couple successfully had a tree on their neighbour’s property removed after its roots damaged parts of their property, including their driveway, in the Hunter Valley region of NSW.

The couple, who live in Hinton, applied to the Land and Environment Court to have the Morton Bay fig removed after the local council refused the request.

The tree was “not large in terms of the enormous potential scale of Morton Bay figs” but measured more than 17m tall, with a canopy spread averaging about 21m.

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The decades-old tree was located near the common boundary.

When the couple purchased their property in 1998 there were no obvious issues with the trees roots.

In 2002, in preparing to lease the property, they had roots cleared from the driveway and upgraded the surface to unitary brick paving.

A steel plate was installed vertically along the boundary beside one particularly large, severed root as a barrier intended to prevent further incursion from root regrowth.

Five years later, in 2007, the couple was told by the property agent the roots had breached the steel plate and caused damage to the driveway.

At their request, the neighbour asked the local council for permission to remove the tree but it was refused.

In the following year, after further damage to the driveway, the neighbour installed a barrier.

However, by 2019, the couple claimed the roots were again causing severe paving uplift and potential retaining wall damage, and had caused stormwater pipe blockages four times.

After speaking to their neighbour again, he agreed to apply to council to have the tree removed but, again, it was refused.

The couple then applied to the court to have the tree removed and for their neighbour to pay compensation for past damage — however, the claim for compensation was later dropped.

In handing down his decision earlier this year, Land and Environment Court Acting Commissioner John Douglas said he considered all the benefits the tree offered.

“The tree may contribute to the applicants’ privacy, and to protection from the sun and wind. It has historical and scenic value to the community, and intrinsic value to public amenity,” he said.

“Being a long lived, large, endemic tree, it is likely to contribute significantly to the local ecosystem and biodiversity by providing food and or shelter for local fauna.”

Douglas considered the installation of a deep, reinforced concrete block root barrier but said that could impact the tree’s health, longevity, and stability.

He concluded the only way to prevent future damage was to have the tree removed.

“I am satisfied that roots from the tree have caused damage to the applicants’ paved driveway, front brick gate post, and stormwater pipes, and they have prised a path away from the dwelling wall,” he said.

“Considering the size and extent of the tree’s roots observed on site, their close proximity to the applicants’ driveway, and the characteristics of this species, I am also satisfied that extensive future damage is likely.”

The tree was ordered to be removed at the respondent’s cost.


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