The Sunshine Coast Council has unapologetically chopped down and mulched 18 fruit trees on verges in Buderim within the hugely popular Urban Food Street (UFS) precinct.
The precinct has organically grown over the past seven years to span 11 streets in the leafy suburb, where produce grown on the verges is consumed by more than 200 people.
The area has been at the centre of a six-month stoush with the council after a complaint was made.
The council then ordered residents to obtain public liability insurance and a free permit in order to keep the trees on the footpaths.
The trees felled this morning were on the footpath of three properties where the resident had not obtained a permit.
Residents have told the ABC they were unaware of the work being done until council trucks and mulchers entered the precinct early this morning.
Chris White, a chef and resident within the UFS precinct, phoned ABC Sunshine Coast on Wednesday morning as he stood at the stumps of what were until this morning fully-laden fruit trees.
“It’s a way now that they can put a concrete footpath in and it’s a show of force,” he said.
Produce from the trees was grown for and consumed by the local community.
Mr White said destroying the trees was devastating for residents.
“I think it’s the kids that are going to be impacted greatest here because they’ve nurtured these trees, and now they’re not here.”
Through tears Mr White said fruit from one tree had been saved, only due to the quick thinking of one of the residents.
“She climbed inside the tree so that they couldn’t cut it down,” he said.
“We didn’t have enough people on the ground to save the trees and they wouldn’t allow us to get the fruit.”
Mr White said the street looked “barren” after the council trucks and mulchers had moved through the area.
‘Disappointing and avoidable’, council says
Councillor Ted Hungerford said the felling of the trees was disappointing, but the council was left with no option after a resident had not applied for a permit, nor opted to relocate the trees to private property.
He said the requirement for a free permit and public liability insurance applied throughout the region, and so far 23 residents had fulfilled those requirements.
Another 10 residents had removed or relocated the trees to private property.
Cr Hungerford said this morning’s actions came after many months of negotiations, and the landholder for the three properties had also been issued with $609 infringement notices for each property.
Another four properties have compliance notices due in June.
Mourning the loss and ‘waste’
Resident Gail Felgenhauer said the council was belligerent, bullying and discriminatory.
“We’ve had multiple meetings and presented multiple options and ideas for solving their imagined problems,” she said.
“They have discriminated against food.
“We have grown food here to share with the elderly in the area, with couples and families, and we’ve grown this for seven years.
“And all of a sudden the council tries to bully us into getting permits and then there were difficulties with insurance.
“Our position was that there were ornamentals [on verges] all over the Sunshine Coast area, so why discriminate against vegetables and fruit?”
Ms Felgenhaur said the citrus fruit from the felled trees would have been enough to provide about 12 months worth of jam for residents.
“And there was a dozen or more paw paws, beautiful paw paws … that lovely resident over there who has a physical disability, he ate the paw paws regularly,” she said.
“It’s just such waste.”
Alison Foley does not live in the UFS area but walks her children through the precinct regularly.
“It’s the future of our environment, it’s an education source, it’s a demonstration of what communities can do in a sustainable, collaborative and educational way,” she said.
Resident Lisa Edward said the produce was picked regularly and united the neighbourhood.
“Why would the council chop down trees that produce what we eat?” she said.
“They were 1.2 metres back from the road. There’s no danger.
“All our kids ride their bikes up the road and walk through the trees. It’s more good and healthy than dangerous.”
‘Internationally significant’ project
ABC gardening personality Costa Geordiadis has previously told the ABC that the UFS concept was “internationally significant” and that the council’s requirement for residents to obtain public liability insurance for verge gardens was buck-passing.
“There’s very little there that is dangerous,” he said.
“That’s where we have to draw the line between common sense and a legal filter that just goes beyond what is fair and practical.”
Queensland One Nation leader and Member for Buderim, Steve Dickson, said the council’s action was wrong in every sense of the word.
“This is renowned throughout the whole world, people love this, the local community loves this,” he said.
“What message is this sending to our children?
“Not to mention if it’s all about safety, there’s big stumps hanging out of the ground, so when somebody walks along there and trips over those stumps, who’s wrong then?
“Seriously, nobody has thought this through.”
Mr Dickson questioned the council’s motivation, adding that where the felled trees were actually left “plenty of room to walk” along the footpath.
Where to now?
The council said properties where the resident did not have a permit or insurance in place faced the same outcome.
Mr White has five citrus trees on his footpath and currently has no permit because there was no guarantee residents would not be charged in the future.
“Why is food the reason you have to get a permit when people can grow ornamentals and rock walls wherever they want and not get a permit? That’s the issue,” he said.
“They said if I don’t go through the correct channels that’s what will happen [trees will be cut down] and I’ll get a $600 fine.”