MEMORIES: Ian Cooke says the demountable classrooms at Alstonville Public School should be relocated rather than axing these historic fig trees.
MEMORIES: Ian Cooke says the demountable classrooms at Alstonville Public School should be relocated rather than axing these historic fig trees. Doug Eaton

Save town’s green history

A FORMER Alstonville Public School student says Ballina council should relocate demountable classrooms rather than remove fig trees that are part of the town's historic infrastructure.

Ian Cooke fondly remembers climbing along the row of 100-plus year-old fig trees, along the boundary between the public school and St Joseph's, as a student in the 1940s.

The long-time Alstonville resident blamed a planning error, saying the NSW Department of Education was not required to comply with Ballina council's planning regulations regarding the location of the classrooms.

"It is inconceivable that council's planning policies would permit numerous portable, children's classrooms to be erected directly under these huge trees," he said.

"I have said to council, if this was an ordinary developer, would you have allowed them to put buildings under those trees?"

Mr Cooke said as one of the last parts of Alstonville's historic infrastructure, the trees should be preserved.

"Because they are so historic and a valuable part of the history of Alstonville, I believe they should be fenced off and left there to see out their old age," he said.

A 115-year-old fig tree, which an arborist found to be unwell, was cut down in controversial circumstances at Alstonville Public School last April.

"That was understandable because there was some evidence of it rotting in some places," Mr Cooke said.

"From what I can see with these trees I couldn't see any evidence of them rotting around the trunks."

Mr Cooke said council was setting a dangerous precedent for other people wanting to get rid of trees in the future.

"Just plonk a children's cubby house underneath some trees and say 'look this is a danger to my kids, I want these trees to go'."

Ballina Council Development and Environmental Services group manager Rod Willis said the Department of Education followed State Government guidelines when locating the classrooms without council approval.

"Once the classrooms are installed the Department of Education has to notify council so there is a public record of buildings and infrastructure in each local government area."

Mr Willis said the 2008 shire-wide heritage study did not identify the trees as being items of heritage significance.

He said due to the age and size of the trees, council advised the school to consider retaining the trees by implementing an exclusion zone under the trees and relocating the demountable classrooms, prior to commencing any removal works.

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