Sutherland station fig trees removed due to public safety concerns

Two sprawling, 70-year-old fig trees on the eastern side of Sutherland station have been cut down because of public safety concerns.

The action by Sutherland Shire Council resulted from a review of trees in the Sutherland CBD after a 100-year-old fig collapsed in April this year, trapping the driver of a ute and causing minor injuries to a woman and child.

The station trees were valued by many residents, with protests two years ago when they were under threat from a draft Sydney Trains policy on managing power line obstructions along the rail corridor.

This year's council review identified the two Hills Figs at Sutherland Station, plus a Port Jackson Fig and Eucalypt at the northern end of Eton Street, for "urgent removal due to their poor structure".

A council report on the action taken said the station trees "appear green and healthy, however an arborist inspection revealed that there is clear evidence that the trees structure is compromised".

"Large areas of dead tissue on the top side of the branches, the base of the trunk and split and dying/dead surface roots, all combine to create a significate foreseeable and unacceptable risk to pedestrians and road users at this location from either, failure of large limbs or whole tree failure.

"From the inspection it was evident that the tissue is splitting and starting to degrade and there is no suitable remedial option that would allow retention of these two Hills Figs."

The report said the trees were planted about 70 years ago and since then a substation and other below ground infrastructure had been installed nearby.

"Council officers will undertake a detailed investigation of the site to determine what below ground space is available to plant," the report said.

"It is council's intention to improve this space by screening the rail line."

Another staff report, prepared for Monday night's council meeting, cleared an inspector over the collapse of the Port Jackson Fig on the corner of Eton Street and President Avenue in April this year.

Cr Carmelo Pesce said after the incident that, while he was mayor, he unsuccessfully sought to have the tree removed at a business owner's request.

The report said the tree was inspected in February 2020 "in response to a customer request regarding leaf and fruit fall from branches over the roof of an adjoining property".

"At the time of inspection, there was no evidence the entire structure was likely to fail," the report said.

"There are other mature figs of similar form and structure that have not failed in this way, both in Sutherland Shire and other local government areas."

The report said the failure of the tree was due to a combination of factors, including decay inside the trunk.

Aerial imagery indicated the tree was planted in the 1920s.

A review of council records and discussions with staff had found no previously recorded failures of figs within the Sutherland CBD.

"There are records of some individual branch failures in parks, however, there was no correlation between those types of failures and the catastrophic failure of the whole side of the Port Jackson Fig on the northwest corner of Eton Street and President Avenue," the report said.

A consultant has been engaged to inspect another 45 trees in the CBD that "are not immediate hazards, however, require closer inspection to confirm their condition".

"A range of operational actions will be undertaken to address the potential for further tree failures in other high use public locations across the local government area," the report said.

A council spokeswoman said "the council values its urban trees, with staff working to maintain and enhance our urban tree canopy where possible and to effectively manage those trees in need of remediation".

"Council's expert arborists assess the health of public trees and take action when a tree is deemed to pose a threat to members of the public or their property," she said.

"Council endeavours to keep our community informed and engaged on decisions affecting the management of our urban tree canopy, however where there is a genuine risk to public safety that cannot be mitigated through remedial options, then council will remove trees that are structurally compromised.

"Residents may have noticed signs attached to a select number of trees around the Sutherland Shire that had been assessed as posing an unacceptable risk to public safety.

"While many of these trees were valued and longstanding features of their surrounding environment, failing health and structural issues meant they were removed as a priority.