We want our trees back!

2013-11-23 00:00

A TUSSLE over trees will see members of the Hillcrest community staging a protest outside a local petrol station at 9.30 am today.

Residents and the owner of the newly-acquired Caltex Service Station have been at loggerheads after he had seven trees — five of them indigenous — that “have been there forever” chopped down.

Luis Farias, who is paralysed and without the use of his left leg after being wounded during a robbery, however maintains that it was done purely for safety reasons.

“I too value and appreciate trees. However, I value my safety more,” he said. The garage has been robbed twice, he said.

Residents are adamant that having the stinkwood and coral trees cut down in no way improves the security of the area.

And today at 9.30 am they will be voicing their discontent with a protest on Old Main Road, demanding that they be replaced with mature trees.

Steve Camp, a concerned resident, said they have gone to great lengths to ensure that trees are planted in the neighbourhood and also the surrounding townships.

“The First Hillcrest Scouts and Guides Group have planted numbers of indigenous trees over the past two years, recently 15 indigenous trees at the Hillcrest taxi rank.

“The trees chopped down were a feature of our neighbourhood. We don’t see how it could pose a security risk. The branches were at least two metres from the ground.”

Driving past the spot where stumps now bear witness to the majestic trees that were, Camp said he immediately sent an e-mail to Farias requesting they be replaced.

“He has landscaped the front area, and I applaud him for that. It needed some tidying up, but the trees were not the problem,” Camp said.

“When he [Farias] started to cut down the trees, the municipality actually offered to uproot them; he was not entitled to even touch those trees.”

Their demand is simple, Camp says: Replace our trees with indigenous, mature ones, readily available at a local nursery. They suggested Erythrina trees, which don’t grow thick with lower branches.

“From the rugby club to the local youth movement, business and commuters — we are all rallying behind this issue.”

Camp said commuters used to wait for their public transport under the shade of those trees. Now they too have been inconvenienced.

In their letter to Farias, the Kloof Conservancy said “personal circumstances and business requirements did not justify nor authorise” these actions.

“Your explanation on the issue of security and safety is not accepted. It is far too convenient an excuse. Security is a problem for everyone not just for you and your business, but we don’t take the law into our own hands and destroy the community’s property.”

Another letter reads that the conservancy has been active for many years and has voluntarily beautified the Hillcrest environment by involving local communities, and used these trees as examples of the merits in preserving the environment. “Conservation has been dealt a blow by the felling of these trees,” they said.

Supporting Farias, Charmaine Brewis said of the old petrol site: “Well done to the new owners in making this eyesore respectable.”

Norman Hughes, who has business dealings with Farias, said the petrol station was a grotty eyesore in the centre of town and a haven for thieves and vagrants.

“Would you prefer for that area to remain in a shoddy, unsafe state to save a few trees?”

Farias owns petrol stations in Cato Ridge and Gillitts, both of which he has renovated extensively. He took control of the Hillcrest site in October.

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