A cut too far

Ausgrid has been taken to task by Ku ring gai residents for “ugly and lopsided” pruning of trees on nature strips, growing close to powerlines.

Mature plane trees in Killara, Gordon, Lindfield and Turramurra have been heavily pruned, resulting in lopsided, ungainly shapes which could pose a danger to the public, they say.

Ausgrid has a legal obligation to keep branches a safe distance from powerlines. But following heavy pruning in the last three weeks, its contractors have been branded “chainsaw wielding cowboys” by furious homeowners on its Facebook page.

In many cases, branches were cut right back to the trunk. Killara resident Lee Burnet called it “appalling tree management” and said “it seems the ‘nearest growth point or collar’ is actually the one nearest the main trunk, not the one nearest to the power lines.”

Killara resident Claire Vincer Symons said on the electricity provider’s public forum, that work in Stanhope Road was “an absolute disgrace. It would have been better to cut down many of the trees altogether and then give people the option of replating smaller trees to get some sort of aesthetic back. All of these lopsided half trees look ridiculous.”

An Ausgrid contractor who visited another street after pruning around eight trees, told a resident that a directive from Ausgrid management had ordered trees be cut from their usual one metre pruning to two metres.

Residents are worried the lopsided trees could become unstable and fall over in a high wind. Greg Hatton said that when he saw the damage to the plane trees outside his house, he was put in touch with the foreman who oversaw the job.”He came out and agreed it looked terrible – very heavy-handed and over the top,” said Mr Hatton.

“He admitted there wasn’t much they could do about the ones already pruned but they would prune the remaining ones more lightly.”

He said that for many years Ausgrid had cut one metre off the trees to prevent wires getting caught in branches but that now it’s two metres. “It’s down to saving money – but it’s messed up the trees and we have to look at it.”

Ausgrid says it uses arborists to inspect and audit the tree trimming work. A spokesperson said: “Our arborist inspected the tree trimming in Killara this week and found it was done to the required standard. We expect many of these trees to regenerate quickly with fresh growth, which may be hedged to create a fuller and greener appearance. Crews trim to accommodate about one year’s worth of regrowth.”

They added that many of the trees planted in Ku ring gai were “inappropriate species to be planted under six metre high powerlines” given most grew to well above that height.

Responding to the tide of residents’ anger, Ku ring gai Council conducted its own investigations and found “mature trees almost deformed or reduced to stumps” despite an Australian Standard contractors are meant to work to. It passed a unanimous motion on August 9 to get an urgent review  by the NSW Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy of current tree-pruning guidelines.

Mayor Cheryl Szatow said: “I’ve received a flood of calls and correspondence from residents expressing their shock. Some beautiful mature trees in suburbs such as Killara and Gordon have been reduced to lopsided stumps.”

Council staff are assessing the most badly affected trees to see whether removal and replanting of low growing native saplings is needed.

Mayor Szatow said she was hopeful that negotiations with Ausgrid would result in standardised practices “appropriate for the size and maturity of trees found in Ku-ring-gai, which are some of the loveliest in Sydney.”

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