RALLYING around the issue of trees seems to have driven a wedge between the Hillcrest community. Local Caltex garage owner Luis Farias came under fire when he chopped down seven trees — five of them indigenous — that “have been there forever” on the verge in front of his newly-acquired petrol station. He has since offered to plant 10 trees elsewhere. Farias, who was paralysed and without the use of his left leg after being wounded during a robbery, says the trees were felled purely for safety reasons. He has regained some use of his leg, but still moves with difficulty. “I too value and appreciate trees. However, I value my safety more,” he told The Witness previously . Some residents are adamant that having the stinkwood and coral trees cut down in no way improves the security of the area. And here is where the chasm starts, because although Farias has apologised and offered to replant more trees than he cut down, he is not prepared to do it on the spot some residents demand — right in front of his garage. Now joining the chorus of protests against Farias’s refusal to budge, surface voices of support. The pro-tree group has vowed to keep up an hour-long protest every Saturday morning in front of the petrol station on Old Main Road. But in e-mails seen by The Witness, it is obvious that there are those that are more than happy that “a dirty old place” has been cleaned up. Conservation groups are adamant that Farias’s fears of being a crime victim again, hold no water. Steve Camp, one of the concerned residents, said the trees did not just beautify the area, but also provided shelter to commuters waiting for their public transport. According to Camp, he enquired with the police and was told there was no record of crime committed in the area because of the trees. Ward 10 councillor Richard Crouch said people cannot just break by-laws as they wish. “Whether he offers to plant 20 trees, the fact remains he broke the law. The local community is outraged by what he did,” said Crouch. Head of Ethekwini Parks and Recreation Thembinkosi Ngcobo said no one has a right to remove trees from public places as they wish, and a fine is imposed on people who do that.