Last week the community group Save Our Figs & Newcastle City Council participated in mediation with the Hon Michael McHugh AC QC. They reached an agreement that the option of an independent third party who would assess all the documents relating to the purported risk of the Laman Street Fig trees & make a binding determination as to the fate of the trees would be put to the Councillors.
This was important because it meant that both the Arborists Reports from both sides would be considered, as would all the other information regarding the safety of the trees that is disputed.
Unfortunately Newcastle City Council has done a number of things in this process, which resulted in issues of trust in the community. Just recently they had staff at the trees ready to chop them down before the vote was held at the Council Meeting. That sure gave the community confidence that their issues were being given due consideration. The community has had to work in a working party with the same staff who recommended that the trees be chopped down. Needless to say this process didn’t get far. Recently, the acting General Manager said that “council officers should not be voting on matters in which they have to give advice. He said it was an example of poor governance.” http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/council-update-16-8-2011/ Documents & reports have not been available, except under an FOI request, further adding to the perceived lack of transparency of Newcastle Council by the community.
Over 10,000 people signed a petition to keep the trees. The community made numerous YouTube videos, sent submissions to Council & organized fund-raising activities as fighting Newcastle Council was a very costly exercise for the community that went into tens of thousands of dollars. It’s hard enough to get people to attend one event, yet the Newcastle community went out to an evening vigil 69 times to protest the trees removal & attract the attention of the Council. They did all that they could.
An independent decision maker would be excellent for all concerned. If the community believed the information coming out of Newcastle City Council was correct, the community would have accepted its decisions.
So last night, the option of a third party assessor was brought to an Extraordinary Council Meeting & (…….drum roll……..) was voted against by 7 Councillors. Two Councillors were absent.
These same Councillors voted against performing dynamic testing on the trees to see if they would actually move or fall when pulled by machinery that will read the slightest movement. They also voted against the rescission motion to not remove the trees.
So the Laman Street Figs that more than one respected Arborist say are not a risk & have survived 4 recent major storms, including the Pasha Bulker Storm, without falling or dropping a limb or even a small branch are to be chopped down. In spring-time. Hard to believe.
Just for interest, even the business papers for last night’s Extraordinary Council Meeting were not available for the community on Newcastle Council’s website, which is against usual practice.
http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/ has the whole story & it makes interesting reading.
Today’s news about last night’s Council Meeting – http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/council-votes-for-laman-street-figs-to-face-chop/2270935.aspx