Lismore man's $15,000 view
IGNORANCE is no defence in the eyes of the law.
East Lismore resident Brian Burns learnt this the hard way recently when he was fined $15,000 plus legal costs after cutting down some trees on council land in front of his house on Belvedere Drive.
Lismore Council originally fined him $1500, but Mr Burns took the matter to Lismore Local Court where Magistrate David Heilpern convicted him under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act and spoke at some length on the seriousness of the offence and the need to send a strong message to the community about the illegal chopping of trees.
But Mr Burns said he was "just trying to clean the place up and make it respectable".
He said the trees, a variety of bleeding heart, dropped a lot of leaves and clogged up the storm water drains.
"I know what I did, but at the time I didn't know it was against the law."
I'm a bit shocked by it all... I accept it was wrong but I just didn't know and the judge obviously doesn't like people who cut down trees
He said he thought the initial $1500 fine was "wrong and stupid", and said he was perhaps "arrogant" in taking the matter to court.
"I thought it was a bit of a joke, but the joke turned on me."
Mr Burns said the whole matter had cost him more than $20,000.
"I'm a bit shocked by it all... I accept it was wrong but I just didn't know and the judge obviously doesn't like people who cut down trees."
Mr Burns denies he cut the trees to improve his view and says he wouldn't have done anything if council had maintained them.
Other residents in Belvedere Drive have also been fined $1500 for clearing trees in front of their houses.
Lismore Council's manager of development and compliance,
Peter Jeuken, said the case was a timely reminder that residents need to obtain approval before undertaking certain tree-clearing work and that if a fine is challenged in the court, they may face a maximum penalty much larger than the original fine.