Council ‘not responsible’ for tree fall

Big water marks through the roof in the hallway.

By Mitchell Clarke

Cardinia Shire Council claims they “feel” for an Upper Beaconsfield family after a tree fell on their property and forced them into crisis accommodation for up to eight months.

That’s cold comfort for Nicola Calderwood and her family who fled their home after the large tree fell split in half on the evening of 10 July, with one half gutting the property and the other half strewn across the pathway.

As a result of the incident, it’s expected the family won’t be able to move back into their house until May next year, but they’re more frustrated at the fact that council aren’t taking responsibility.

In a statement to the Gazette, Cardinia Shire Council said they “do not have a legal responsibility” nor the financial resources to regularly and systematically inspect, maintain or repair self-sown native trees growing on the roadside.

They claim any responses to specific concerns raised by property owner are undertaken as a public service rather than a legal obligation, subject to budgetary constraints, available resources and environmental considerations.

In a letter sent to Mrs Calderwood from National Claims Solutions, it was stated extreme weather conditions in Victoria over recent years have placed all trees under “significant stress” particularly mature, self-sown native trees.

The family held concerns over the trees on her nature strip for some time, repeatedly contacting council for advice on what to do.

Mrs Calderwood said council staff visited the property over a year ago and said the trees were fine – but council claim they didn’t receive any reports on inquiries regarding the safety or integrity at the property prior to it falling and therefore, didn’t attend the property.

“They just will not take responsibility which irks me, just be professional and give me the answers I’m looking for,” Mrs Calderwood said.

“We want to know who is responsible and no one is telling us, they’re pretty much just fobbing it off.

“If they’re not allowed to maintain it and I’m not allowed to touch them, who is responsible then?”

Despite the incident, the family are taking comfort from the fact that no one was injured or killed as a result.

“One gentleman was walking past at the time it fell and he had to run to avoid it, he could’ve been killed that night,” Mrs Calderwood said.

“I’d be absolutely devastated if an innocent person walking past was to get crushed.”

Following the fall, council were called five times to report the tree damage but it wasn’t until the following week on the 15 July that a representative came to survey the damaged tree which was still strewn across the pathway as of 29 July.

Thankfully, insurance removed the tree from the house and covered most of the costs to the family. Still, they’re seeking compensation from council for the $500 excess they were forced to pay, as well as putting in a request to only pay rates on the land rather than paying rates on the house.

Cardinia Shire Council general manager infrastructure and environment Peter Benazic confirmed the rates department was working with the family to discuss possible payment arrangements for their 2019-20 rates.

But it’s the random out-of-pocket costs which are proving to take their toll on the family, they’ve been forced to buy takeaway on countless occasions and constantly need to re-purchase essential items which they aren’t able to gather from their house.

“My daughter is in Year 11 this year but is doing Year 12 subjects, so (being out of home) it’s putting a lot of stress on her,” she said.

“You can’t put a price on stability and normality for the kids.”

In the meantime, council told Mrs Calderwood they’d send a representative out in the next two to three weeks while the family continues to wait on the builders report. They aren’t convinced their house will ever be the same home they grew to love.

“With all the rain and wind putting pressure on the roof, I’ll probably end up with a puzzle house,” she said.

“I probably won’t have a house where the bricks, tiles and windows won’t match because of council’s negligence.

“This wouldn’t have happened if they had pruned and maintained their trees.”

As residents of Upper Beaconsfield for 15 years, the family just want simple answers, to be able to inform the rest of the community on who they can contact if they are faced with a similar problem in the future.

The Gazette is awaiting a response from Cardinia Shire Council regarding how residents should tackle similar situations relating to concerns over self-sown trees on their property.

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