Trees are dividing more than footpaths and water pipes in Canberra, judging by two cases before the appeals tribunal, which has been called on to resolve differences between unit owners over whether the trees should be removed.
In both cases, approval for removal has been overturned, leaving body corporates to monitor the trees for safety risks.
Cook resident Dr Murray May convinced the Conservator of Flora and Fauna to approve the removal of a large brittle gum tree and its sucker from near his carport.
The gum was planted in the 1970s as part of a revegetation program when Wybalena Grove was developed. Dr May moved there in 2009, and in 2013 he replaced a leaking water pipe.
Dr Murray is one of two unit owners living closest to the tree who consider it to be a risk after pruning in 2010 proved to be ineffective. The tree's roots were also causing the carport to crack.
Rather than remove the tree, Wybalena Grove's owners' corporation thought a better option was to seek advice and take a wait-and-see approach. This saw the matter brought before the Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The body corporate representatives said the slope of the ground, shrinkage and external loads could have caused the carport to crack. The cause of damage to the water pipe could not be known without excavation.
Tribunal member Mary-Therese Daniel found minor cracking in the carport slab, but this was also evident in other carports and did not make the carport unsafe.
"Any tree of any kind poses a risk," Ms Daniel said. "The question for an owners' corporation is whether – and if so, when – that risk becomes unacceptable, and how best to manage that risk with due regard to the amenity provided by the tree and the financial and administrative costs of management."
In another case, the owners' corporation of units in Braddon sought expert advice for a 40-year-old gum tree with a large canopy.
When one of the branches fell off the tree hitting a car, experts said it should be removed. The conservator approved the removal, but said if the tree was retained, remediation work should be undertaken. Before that happened, the case came before the tribunal.
Asking the tribunal to review this decision, resident Ruth Parker presented a report from consultant arborist Alan Mann, who said that while the tree had problems, these could be remedied with trimming and the use of cobra cabling.
Ms Parker argued that the tree should be retained because it provided amenity and could last a great number of years, and the risk posed from dropping limbs could be alleviated.
The tribunal referred the matter and reports back to the owners' corporation to weigh up competing expert evidence.