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General News

15 February, 2023

Last minute stop to trail tree planting

MORE than 1500 trees will not be planted along Manthey Road at Tolga Industrial Estate after Tablelands Regional Council put a stop to the exercise amidst concerns that it may hinder future expansion of businesses in the precinct.

By Robyn Holmes

Last minute stop to trail tree planting - feature photo

The trees, funded by a Queen’s Jubilee grant, were set to be planted by Tablelands Outdoor Recreation Association along the rail trail running parallel to Manthey Road last weekend, but at the eleventh hour council called a special meeting to discuss the issue, ending up in a lengthy debate during which Mayor Rod Marti strongly argued for the project to go ahead.

He said rail trails were highly valued in other parts of the country and questioned why his council did not understand its overall importance, pointing to their apparent willingness to “slice and dice” the trail to suit the needs of private property owners along the rail corridor.

“As long as I am elected on this council I will not support any slicing and dicing of the rail trail – it’s diabolical and doesn’t happen anywhere else,” he said.

Crs Peter Hodge, Bernie Wilce, David Clifton and Kevin Cardew all argued that allowing the tree to be planted now would be inappropriate given the “very powerful” interest by landowners to expand their businesses into the rail corridor and what that would mean in relation to infrastructure such as sewerage and stormwater drainage.

There were also comments alluding to the fact that council had never given formal approval for the tree planting, with a letter of support for the organisation to secure the funding the only documentation referred to during the meeting.

A bike rider himself, Cr Wilce said while he was aware of the trail’s benefits, council also had to recognise that businesses who had spent “millions of dollars” had expressed a desire to expand their holdings.

“As beneficial as it is, it’s a bike or walking track while the industrial estate is an important part of our economy,” he said.

“And to put this into perspective, we are not talking about the destruction of the rail trail – it may mean a slight movement of the trail towards Manthey Road,” he said.

Cr Cardew said a lot of issues were currently in play with the estate and believed council needed to look at the whole picture before allowing trees to be planted at the site.

“It floods and floods badly and we need to address the stormwater issues – we can’t allow development of any sort to happen unless we may end up with eggs on our face again,” he said.

“If we approve anything there before that happens we risk further reputational damage – if we have to remove the trees at a later date, the community will be up in arms. We need to pull back and look at the area overall and consider all the issues. To do anything else is madness.”

But Mayor Marti was adamant planting the trees would not be a “big deal”.

“We are making this bigger than Ben Hur – removing a few trees if needed in a couple of years time is the least of our worries – it’s not the ball in front of us at the moment, it’s just about planting some trees,” he said.

Cr Clifton reminded council that a masterplan for the estate was in development and council should not be second guessing what that document may recommend.

“And the owners of land already there deserve to be heard,” he said.

“They have been seeking to be heard since 2018 and we have not resolved to hear them properly.”

Cr Hodge said his stance was all about balance and moved an alternate recommendation that he asserted would provide some structure as to what needed to be done.

The motion included a formal approval for tree planting from Grove Street to Mathey Road, which has already been done, and the suspension of any tree planting within the rail corridor between Manthey Road and Beantree Road until a detailed plan and strategy is developed to address issues such as the possible extension of industrial use within the rail corridor, stormwater flooding, the possible relocation of the sewer main, and appropriate tree species that will not cause future problems like invasive tree roots and leaf litter.

The motion also instructed the CEO to begin negotiations with landholders in the estate and report back to council by June.

The motion was passed, with Crs Marti, Bilney and Haydon voting against it.

Outside the meeting, representatives of TORA said they were disappointed and called for a Rail Trail Advisory Committee to be reinstated to ensure all stakeholders could be heard and allow issues to be fleshed out before coming before council.

The committee was disbanded in 2015 but not before they developed a draft management plan for the trail from Atherton to Walkamin.

“I am disappointed that we can’t continue planting trees with TRC underwriting our efforts but it’s not the end of the world and we will continue planting trees where we can,” Rail Trails Australia FNQ representative Peter Tuck said.

TORA’s Gayle Sticher said there was a broader issue at play and that was the overall management of the trail.

“We have been asking for the council to return to what we initially believed was going to be the management plan and the management model for the rail trail,” she said.

“The management plan was the model the committee came up with and that talked about everything - the trail itself, its ongoing maintenance, its funding, the relationships with landowners the management of events, maintenance standards, and future upgrades.

“We don’t know whether it was ever endorsed but it was, until last week, still on their (TRC’s) website.

“What we are asking is for the community to come back in – we would like the rail trail advisory and management committee reformed. We want to be involved in making decisions about it that are beneficial for the whole community.”

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