Warnbro resident critical of City of Rockingham’s response to tree root issue

The trees that line Mr D’Sauza’s Warnbro street.
The trees that line Mr D’Sauza’s Warnbro street.

STEPHEN D’Souza has no option but to watch in frustration as tree roots moving ever closer to his Warnbro home – threatening the very foundations upon which he lives.

He also grows increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy at the City of Rockingham, which refuses to act on the creeping danger.

Mr D’Souza claims he has spent a year trying to get the City to provide a clear policy on street trees.

Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels said it is the City’s policy not to remove street trees, “except when alternatives to prevent the damage are not possible, or when future repairs are expected to be significant and costly”.

In this case, Mr D’Souza believes the future repairs will be “significant and costly”.

But he would risk breaking the law if he took actions into his own hands and chopped down the offending tree.

Mr Sammels said the City has thoroughly investigated Mr D’Souza’s complaint.

“It has inspected the property and driveway and is unable to determine any damage that needs repairing caused by the street tree,” he said.

“Minor raising of a small section of driveway pavers was evident within the private property.

“It could not be determined to what extent the tree may have been impacting the paving. The resident is responsible for investigating and making any claim for damages through the City insurers.”

Meanwhile, Mr D’Souza waits for the damage to become so extensive that starting expensive legal action is worth it.

“There appears no appetite at the City to work with residents and resolve this matter fairly or amicably,” he said.

“Eventually, the damages will grow large enough to make legal action necessary.”

Mr D’Souza also spoke to an arborist who believes this species of tree – a Norfolk Island Pine – is “totally unsuitable for suburban streetscapes”.

“Their roots grow close to the surface and destroy everything in the vicinity,” Mr D’Souza said.

“There is no way to protect from their reach – even a two metre trench will not deter them.

“These trees are numerous in the Warnbro area and council could be liable for vast damages if they undermine anyone’s foundations. The bill will ultimately be borne by all ratepayers.”

Mayor Sammels admitted the trees were the City’s responsibility.

But he said the City will only remove the trees where there are no other alternatives to prevent damage.

“Trees can vary significantly in their root development dependent on site and environmental conditions,” he said.

“The City accepts that minor repairs to sections of infrastructure such as kerbing or hardstand are part and parcel of managing trees in an urban environment.”

He said the City will be considering a policy to preserve vegetation on City controlled land.

“All vegetation, including street trees, will be preserved within the City of Rockingham whenever reasonably possible,” he said.

A policy like this does not suit Mr D’Souza, who has little control of the tree roots which he believes will eventually destroy his home.

“Word will eventually get out that residents have been abandoned to bear the costs (of street trees), despite having no say in what trees are planted, nor being allowed to prune the trees themselves,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people simply start pulling down street trees to avoid potential damages.

“Sadly this denuded streetscape will be to the detriment of us all.”

Norfolk Island Pines

The pines are not native to Rockingham

The tree is endemic to Norfolk Island, an island in the Pacific.

They can grow to 65 metres and drop cones. Due to this size they need 176m2 area for their roots.

When they are used as a street tree arborists recommend that space allows a four metre to five metre diameter upheaval zone.

The tree is ideally suited to coastal locations; however they are illegal to plant in some southern states of the USA and in Florida due to their tendency to be struck by lightning and fall.