• Tony Bosworth

Zero responsibility – Not our tree says Council, yes it is says Transport for NSW

Tree that fell on car Friday reported as dangerous to Hawkesbury Council and RMS back in December – neither took action

If you’re driving along Bells Line of Road – officially one of the most dangerous stretches of road in NSW - be aware that if a tree falls on your car – as happened to one unlucky motorist on Friday – Hawkesbury Council and Transport for NSW may very well both deny any responsibility at all.

That’s exactly what has happened following the incident on Friday around 4pm when Hawkesbury resident Fiona Hamann and her 16-year-old daughter were driving along BLOR at Kurmond when a large portion of a giant pine tree crashed down on their car.

A quick look at the pictures reveals both are lucky to be alive.

This could so easily have been a fatal accident - and it could have been avoided if authorities had acted

It could have been avoided, if only Hawkesbury Council and TfNSW had done their jobs – but neither did.

Back on December 7, a concerned resident who lives on Bells Line of Road (BLOR) near that tree emailed Hawkesbury Council and said the tree was dangerous.

The Council admit to receiving the email, and say they did nothing about it.

Given that the Council have told the Post the tree is not their responsibility, you’d have to ask why they did not forward that email to TfNSW straightaway back in December.

Hawkesbury Council have given no explanation for why the email was not sent on.

Councillors were briefed this past Tuesday about why the email warning was not passed on, but that information has not been publicly shared.

No councillor, as far as we know, has publicly raised any concerns about this.

There is no comment from Council on whether staff will be warned, counselled or reprimanded about not forwarding that crucial email.

The concerned resident who sent the December 7 email did do the right thing and called the RMS the same day. The resident was told an emergency crew would come out immediately.

Waiting for an accident to happen - the tree as reported by a concerned resident on December 7

“We are guessing they didn’t, judging by the crack in the tree,” said the resident who does not want to be named.

“Such a shame, as this could have been prevented and Fiona is so lucky. Anyone driving through could have been hit and killed.”

We asked TfNSW why they did not respond to the December 7 call from the resident. They did not answer the question.

But in any case, they deny the tree that fell is their responsibility, saying, “this tree falls under council’s responsibility due to its location”.

Meanwhile the woman whose car was trapped under that downed tree, and her 16-year-old daughter, have to live with the consequences, and with little obvious route to compensation – not unless Fiona Hamann wants to take on two ‘we’re not responsible’ government bureaucracies – Hawkesbury Council and TfNSW.

Ms Hamann and her daughter were both seriously shaken in the incident. “I’m lucky I’m not dead,” said Ms Hamann on Friday.

But that’s not the full story. While Hawkesbury Council and TfNSW buck-pass and accept zero responsibility for what happened, Ms Hamann is far from out of the woods.

“I haven't had a full night's sleep since it happened, and find myself getting emotional a lot, which is not like me at all,” Ms Hamann said.

“I am still really shaken by the whole thing, and I think it will be a while before I get over it.

“My daughter has been very positive and philosophical, all things considered, and said it was lucky it was us at that moment in time, as we were able to walk away without injury, and maybe someone else would have suffered far worse or been driving at a different speed in a different car and the whole scenario would be very different.”

Kurrajong Heights resident Merle Lester has been writing to politicians about potentially dangerous trees along BLOR since 2017. She tells us she has seen next to no action.

Ms Lester wrote to Federal MP Susan Templeman about potentially dangerous gum trees along Bells Line of Road leading up to Kurrajong Heights back in November 2020.

Those trees are a separate issue to the pine tree that came down last Friday.

Ms Templeman immediately passed on the letter to Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston because roads are a State not a Federal issue.

Ms Preston replied to Ms Lester on December 2, saying she had passed the concerns onto Transport Minister Andrew Constance and said she would contact Ms Lester once she got a response from the Minister.

Two months later, Ms Lester tells us she has had no further response from Ms Preston and the trees appear to her to still be as potentially dangerous as they were last year.

Ms Preston handed the Post a response on Tuesday, following our query about this, which said: “Transport for NSW has advised that regular inspections along Bells Line of Road occur to attend to maintenance and defects.

“Two sections of Bells Line of Road between Little Wheeny Creek and Kurrajong Heights had trees above the carriageway which appear to contain deadwood. Contractors plan to remove the deadwood in February.

“The contractor also identified a broken black wattle tree suspended on the Telstra communications cable, located on Bells Line of Road and eastbound, opposite Old Bells Line of Road, Kurrajong Heights. This matter has been forwarded to Telstra for their action.”

TfNSW told us they were “made aware of the fallen tree on Bells Line of Road on the afternoon of Friday 29 January. A crew attended the site to remove the tree from the road to make it safe for all road users”.

That statement appears incorrect.

“The SES removed the tree off the road, not RMS, “ said Ms Hamann, who of course was there, “and as I was leaving a man came by in his private vehicle and said his company had been tasked with finishing the job later that evening. He didn't say by whom.”

The remains of the tree - still not made safe and no-one will take responsibility for it

The remains of the tree that nobody wants, and nobody owns, and no government department will take responsibility for, is still there, stark against the sky with its smashed limbs, presumably waiting for the next storm or heavy rain when someone else comes driving along who might not be quite so lucky as Ms Hamann.

“Perhaps the key learning from all of this for council and RMS is they need to be more proactive in repairing issues rather than letting the community act as crash test dummies first,” Ms Hamann said.

What they said:

Transport for NSW - “This tree falls under council’s responsibility due to its location”.

Hawkesbury Council – “This tree is on a road maintained by Transport for NSW. In this particular circumstance, it is Council’s view that the tree falls within TfNSW responsibility as it is within 4m of the carriageway and there is no intervening table drain. Council has drawn this to the attention of Transport for NSW.”

Additional comments below from Jeff Organ, Hawkesbury Council’s Director Infrastructure Services

“The responsibilities for tree management on State roads are somewhat complex and vary depending on the road formation configuration and the location of kerb or table drain. Generally Council will have responsibility behind any kerb or table drain.

“Council did receive an email regarding the tree on 7 December 2020. The email was not forwarded to Transport for NSW, however Council has been in contact with Transport for NSW and Transport for NSW confirmed that they received a report in December about some trees on Bells Line of Road. Transport for NSW has advised that maintenance crews conduct regular drive-by inspections of Bells Line of Road and any limbs or trees that are identified as an immediate safety risk are removed.”

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