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Moree CBD – Tree Replacement Program

In consultation with Moree Plains’ Urban Advisory Committee, Council has approved a tree replacement program for Balo Street commencing this financial year to replace the Ficus Hillii trees currently growing in the main street. (The membership of the Urban Advisory Committee includes Councillors, Council staff and members of the community and the Committee provides recommendations to Council in relation to, amongst other matters, the amenity of the Moree CBD.)

Over 20 years ago, the main street of Moree was significantly redeveloped. This was undertaken on the advice of specialists and included planting a number of Ficus Hillii on Balo Street. The trees recommended by the external advisers of the time, were chosen due to their quick growing nature, lush canopy (needed in our summers), limited foliage drop and general aesthetic appeal.

Whilst delivering on many of these fronts, these trees have, over time, created expensive maintenance responsibilities for Council as they have grown larger.

Major pavement works in recent years have identified that the root mass under the pavement and concrete has created damage to irrigation and stormwater lines, in addition to the popped tiles and broken concrete foundations. Over 300 tiles have been replaced in the main street as a direct result of the vigorous roots from these trees. Further, recent works at tenancies in the main street have revealed that the roots systems are encroaching under shop fronts.

With this species of tree, more than a third of a tree is usually hidden beneath the ground.

Although hidden, the roots are vitally important in a number of ways. Fine roots gather the water and nutrients the tree needs to grow and survive, and these are carried through coarse, woody roots to the stem. The coarse roots have the additional role of supporting the tree and resisting the overturning force of the wind on the crown. Lateral roots near the soil surface thicken over successive years, eventually becoming the large woody roots of the framework root system of a mature tree - there are usually between four and eleven such roots which may become 30cm or more in diameter close to the stem.

Mitigating actions such as tree guards have proven counter-productive elsewhere in the Shire. For large trees such as this species, the root system is engineered to support a massive structure above the ground so as the branches widen and gain weight, the roots below are growing and spreading to support the mass. Tree guards seek to encourage downward root growth, however, with the roots needing to support such branch weight, such guards are ineffective with the roots inevitably seeking outward growth to do their job.

Further, despite regular pruning to reduce the overall mass of these trees, each tree is genetically hardwired to continually thicken the branches closest to the trunk and to continually expand their root footprint to counter balance the expectant mass of branches above.

As such, the existing Ficus Hillii trees in the CBD area of Moree have resulted in increasing maintenance costs as their canopy and root system is ever enlarging.

Director of Engineering Services, Ian Dinham explained that Council has recognised the impost these trees are placing on Council’s main street maintenance budget.

“These trees, whilst serving many purposes, are stretching Council’s main street maintenance budget in an unsustainable manner. This burden is only going to increase over time.

“Recognising this, Council has taken advice and consulted with the Urban Advisory Committee and endorsed a tree replacement program will ensure that the dense cooling effect of the trees in the main street is retained whilst replacing this particular species of tree which has such an invasive root system and a tree canopy that becomes heavy and intrusive over time. While Council acknowledges the aesthetic appeal of these trees, it is very important for this to be balanced with practical considerations like the cost implications of such maintenance and the risks associated with retaining these trees.

This sentiment was echoed by Mayor Katrina Humphries, “In these times in particular, I am sure our ratepayers would expect Council to make prudent financial decisions to ensure that money expended by Council in the main street delivers real value. I am confident that our business houses and community members could dream up a heap of ways we could better spend that money rather than replacing tiles and undertaking other costly maintenance activities.”

The replacement of the Ficus Hillii trees is part of a tree replacement program endorsed by Council. Council has taken advice on the alternate options for shade in the main street (including planting other appropriate tree species) and will canvass these options with stakeholders. At the present time, the program has commenced with 4 trees to be replaced this financial year. Every 2-3 years thereafter, a further 4 trees will be similarly replaced until all trees have been so replaced. It is anticipated that the program will take approximately 16 years to carry out.

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