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Yesterday, 17th October 2011, the General Manager of Newcastle City Council called a meeting with the Newcastle Councillors & did a very good thing. He went against the last effective resolution by the Councillors – to have the 14 Laman Street Figs removed. The General Manager did this because the community had been very actively calling for an independent assessment of the safety of the Fig trees because they did not trust their Council any longer, especially after one Councillor said that an independent assessment has the potential to ruin some “reputations” at Council. Nor did they believe that 7 Councillors should have the right to remove trees that the community believe are safe, important for wildlife & one of the few beautiful things left in Newcastle. The constant call has always been for the Councillors to listen to the people, a job they were put there to do.
On Friday 8th October 2011, dubbed ‘Newcastle’s Day of Destruction,’ the tree loppers arrived & the community came out in force to stop the trees from being chopped down. They were successful with only 3 branches removed from 1 tree before the end of the day. Some in the community suffered injuries & 7 were arrested.
Since 8th October 2011, the community has been at Civic Park (which is attached to Laman Street) before dawn every day, maintaining a vigil to ensure the trees are not worked on. Large groups were prepared to come at a moment’s notice which they proved on 3 occasions; when Linda Burney NSW Deputy Leader of the Opposition & Shadow Minister for Planning Infrastructure & Heritage, visited last Sunday & for the two Council Meetings when hundreds of people came to stand on the Town Hall steps & protest the decision to remove their trees. I was told that around 700 people came for yesterday’s Council Meeting. These are noisy affairs as passing traffic also participates by honking their car horns in support. I heard this myself with a phone call where the caller said, “listen to this.”
Here is the General Manager’s media statement of 17th October 2011 – “I wish to emphasise that my first priority is the safety & wellbeing of staff, Councillors, contractors & members of the public. At this time I do not believe it is practical to continue work to remove & replace the 14 Laman Street Hills Figs. This afternoon I met with the Lord Mayor & eight Councillors outlining my concerns regarding the safety & wellbeing of staff, Councillors, contractors & members of the public. I indicated that for these reasons I have decided to delay work to continue to remove the trees. I also outlined a proposal to move forward & ensure a safe environment for any future action in relation to the trees. I have tonight forwarded a draft agreement for an expert evaluation to Save Our Figs to consider. I intend to meet with Save Our Figs tomorrow morning to further discuss the proposal. No work to remove the trees will occur until Save Our Figs has had the opportunity to consider & comment upon the proposal. I will not make any further comment to media until after the meeting with Save Our Figs.” Needless to say there was a very happy section of the Newcastle community last night.
Today it was reported in the Newcastle Herald that at least 6 Councillors (the one’s that voted for the trees to be removed) are “livid that a decision of the elected body has been effectively overturned,” & the General Manager “now faces calls to resign from angry councilors,” while another Councillor wants “Local Government Minister Don Page to launch an investigation into the council.”
The community has been repeatedly saying that the Councillors were elected to listen & represent the people, not work against them, even while the community was gathering in great numbers to save these trees. One Councillor has called the community “disobedient.” This begs the question, what are the community to do when their submissions, letters, pleas, videos, songs, 69 nightly vigils, marches, posters, photos & a petition that is around 12,000 signatures & growing is not working? Go home & watch TV?
Community group Save Our Figs, who have always advocated peaceful protest, will work with Newcastle Council to choose an independent assessor & move this issue onward. Hopefully, the independent assessment decides that the trees are safe. After all, they keep standing up during the many serious storms that have hit Newcastle over the last few years. http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/gm-chops-council-over-fig-fiasco/2326651.aspx?storypage=0
Save Our Figs - http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/
This is a beautiful video showing some of the community protesters who have been labeled ‘ratbags & loonies.’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaT0_JIsWQ4
Last Friday, the Sydney-based company Newcastle City Council hired to fell the Laman Street Fig trees arrived to find a crowd of people waiting in the pre-dawn light. About 200 people, young & old, gathered outside the cyclone fencing that, between you & me, wouldn’t save someone if one of the Figs did fall. Most people aren’t worried about any Figs falling because the reality is they survived the Pasha Bulker storm & since then, one Category 2 cyclone & at least 3 other major storms without dropping a single branch. Someone did report finding a single twig on the road.
A few community members scaled the cyclone fence, some climbed the trees & others chained themselves to the trees & light poles located next to the trees. Other community members gave speeches, people shouted at Council members who gathered to watch, the crowd chanted ‘They are our trees!’ & did what one does when one goes to a demonstration. 7 hours passed with demonstrators still in the trees & chained to poles. Then the police arrived.
Having watched the Newcastle Herald video, it certainly looked like the police used excessive force as was described. Some community members were injured. Another who left the tree he was in was caught while scaling the cyclone fence trying to get away. The police pulled him so hard that the steel pole itself was bent – a lot. Photo below.
7 people were arrested on what the community has dubbed, ‘Newcastle’s Day of Destruction.’
At around 3.15pm the loppers removed about 4 branches from 2 trees & then left because it was 4pm – knock off time.
The police came on Saturday morning to inform the demonstrators that there would be no tree chopping over the weekend & the crowd could leave. Since then the community has spent the time lobbying the local political parties, the Liberal MP Tim Owen who was reported as being most disinterested saying, “Not my business. Nothing to do with me,” & other agencies hoping that someone with more power than Newcastle Council will step in & make the independent assessment of these trees happen before they are removed.
The simple fact is that the Newcastle community does not believe Newcastle Council who say that these trees are unsafe. Many noted Arborists have publically stated that they do not believe these trees are unsafe.
The Darby Street Fair was held yesterday with people standing in lines waiting to sign the petition not to remove the trees & calling for an independent assessment.
Today, Monday, work to remove the trees was suspended pending a meeting between Newcastle Council & police regarding safety of the fences. Perhaps they too thought it was a bit much to bend steel with a young man’s body? The Arborist who may have been part of the independent assessment has come from Melbourne at his own cost to speak with Tim Owen MP & local leaders.
I find it heartening that the community was prepared to fight to save these very beautiful trees that are regarded as the heart of Newcastle. The demonstrators were people of all ages, business people, family people, mothers, fathers, grandparents & people who care for the environment. Even Mayor Tate & the Councillors who voted for the independent assessment took part.
The community has said they will return every day until their very reasonable demand for an independent assessment is heard. Will Newcastle Council listen to its people & to reason?
Here is the Newcastle Herald video showing the drama when the police arrived – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyzeQJeDmJU & the latest news about the fencing around the trees – http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/laman-street-lopping-suspended-while-council-looks-at-security/2318045.aspx
Follow Save Our Figs for the latest news – http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/
At tonight’s Newcastle Council Meeting the Councillors voted to reject the issue of the trees being decided by independent assessment. This means that the chainsaws will probably arrive tomorrow morning at 6am as was planned the last time Council got the go-ahead to chop them down.
I cannot understand why the Councillors voted to not have an independent assessment of the process regarding the safety of these trees. The community petition to save these trees is above 11,700 signatures. This is not something easily ignored.
It’s spring & the Figs are full of fruit. I’ve heard that micro bats live in the trees & being 14 healthy Figs, they offer habitat & food for urban wildlife.
Clr Cook who has lead the charge to rid Newcastle of the Laman Street Figs said mid-September 2011 that, “the independent assessment had the potential to cause reputational damage to council staff members & other experts involved in the fig tree saga.” http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/vote-to-save-laman-street-figs-may-have-been-illegal/2293682.aspx The community believes this means Newcastle Council would not be able to handle scrutiny of their process if it went for independent assessment. This begs the question, what have they got to hide?
If the trees were as unsafe as Newcastle Council say they are, then their reports would have proven this. The community would have been shown to be wrong & the trees could have been removed without any further fuss or cost. The community repeatedly said they would accept the decision of the independent assessment. By the way, the community was to be paying half the costs, so they were putting their money where their mouth is & not for the first time either.
The option of an independent assessment is only used when the original opinion fails to engender trust. The Councillors vote not to follow through with their previous vote to have an independent assessment ensures that the Laman Street Figs go down in Newcastle’s history as a time where Councillors ignored the massive community opposition to the destruction of much loved community assets. Not good for the Councillors, not good for Newcastle Council & certainly not good for the trees.
For the latest sad news – http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/figs-for-the-chop/2312867.aspx
For the full details of the community’s campaign, see Save Our Figs – http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/
The Newcastle Herald published a quick article about the Newcastle Council Meeting held tonight about whether to chop down the Laman Street Fig trees. The vote was 6-6 with Mayor Tate using his casting vote to get an independent assessment of the risk of the trees falling over. Excellent. http://newsadmin.ruralpress.com/preview/article.aspx?articleid=2290777&pubid=257
Anyone have a vuvuzela? I want to have a party & blow one until I have no breath left. At the Newcastle City Council Meeting last night a motion to save the Laman Street Fig trees was voted on. The vote was 7 – 4 to SAVE the trees (one Councillor was absent).
Newcastle Council has not only voted to retain these beautiful iconic Figs, they have also decided to mulch underneath the trees & promote aerial roots to grow to allow the trees to behave in a natural way & promote their own stability. Laman Street will once again be open to people & traffic & will be made one-way. 4 other Hills Figs that were removed from Laman Street in the past will be replaced. How good is that!
The tree preservation group Save Our Figs deserves loud applause for keeping on this issue from the beginning. So do community group Fig Jam who lobbied to save the trees from the beginning also. Community group Newcastle Parks & Playgrounds also deserve loud applause for taking Newcastle City Council to the Land & Environment Court in a bid to save the Figs. They lost on a technicality & it was thought that the trees would be axed. Everyone was very sad when that happened.
The Newcastle community were fantastic in their support of this campaign. Close to 10,000 signatures were signed in a petition to save the Laman Street Figs & the community met a total of 81 times for a vigil at dusk under the trees. Ribbons, notes, cards & teddies were tied to the trees as an expression of love for them & grief that they were to be chopped down. Schools studied the Figs in geography class. People made very moving YouTube videos about the Figs. One woman even wrote a song. It was great. This kind of commitment & involvement is something to be proud of. Without the community’s opposition those beautiful trees would have been chopped down months ago. The local media also deserve applause for their extensive coverage of the issue.
Congratulations to everyone & including the birds & the bats that use these trees for food & habitat.
Mark Hartley’s Arborist Report is the most downloaded file on SoT. It was instrumental in shifting opinion about the alleged risk that the trees presented. I had meant to write about the pull test & how Newcastle Council had decided against doing this. For the sake of completion for those interested, you can read the report here -http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/137210/Item_171.pdf
Today’s Newcastle Herald has a great article about the trees – http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/fig-trees-saved/2025567.aspx?src=email
Lastly, you must visit Save Our Figs to read the account of last night’s Newcastle Council Meeting. It’s happy reading – http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/great-christmas-present-15-12-2010/
Yesterday the Newcastle Herald ran an article that shocked me. A couple of months ago I wrote about the Laman Street Fig trees that are at serious risk of being removed. Newcastle Council says the trees are “potentially unstable.” The community says they are not & that none of these trees dropped a branch or fell during the Pasha Bulker storm that caused massive damage across Newcastle.
The June 2007 storm (the Pasha Bulker storm) was one of the most significant meteorological events in Australia’s history. It was the 4th largest general insurance loss (inflation adjusted) since systematic insurance records were started in 1968. The storm consisted of three distinct impacts (1) flash flooding in the urban area of Newcastle (and as far south as the Central Coast, impacting 800,000 people) on the night of 8 June (about 1 in 100 year return period) (2) more general flooding on the Hunter River 3 days later (about 1 in 40 return period, impacting about 100,000 people) and (3) high winds and wave heights on the night of 8 June (the worst in the Newcastle-Sydney region since the “Sygna” storm in 1974. ~ The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility - http://www.nccarf.edu.au/node/214 So you would think if healthy trees were going to fall, they would do so during that storm.
Having been to see the trees myself I was impressed at their beauty & couldn’t understand why they were considered dangerous. The road is not damaged, nor is the footpath. A wedding party certainly wasn’t afraid as they were standing under the trees for at least an hour having photos taken. See – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/newcastles-iconic-laman-street-fig-trees-at-risk/
Newcastle Mayor Clr Tate in an article in the Newcastle Herald yesterday suggested that the Laman Street Figs be chopped down & the stumps of these magnificent Figs be left in place & sculpted into famous Newcastle artists. He cites the Legerwood Memorial trees in Tasmania as his inspiration saying they are a good tourist attraction.
In 1918 at railway reserve at Ringarooma Road, now known as Legerwood, 2 Douglas Fir, 2 Giant Sequoia, 3 Deodar & a Weymouth Pine were planted to honour WW1 fallen soldiers. In 2001 the trees were deemed unsafe, but not removed due to community concern. In 2004 the Legerwood Hall & Reserves Committee employed a local chainsaw carver to sculpt images of the fallen soldiers & war scenes using the trunks of the trees that were left in place. I would seriously recommend looking at these sculptures - http://www.dorsetonline.org.au/trees.htm
For the life of me I cannot see how chopping down these magnificent trees to leave carved stumps is seen as a viable option. Admitted I am biased as I think Newcastle Council should do everything in its power to keep these trees. Not only are these trees an icon, but they are an extremely beautiful asset & would be worth at least $100,000 each. 14 trees = $1,400,000.
As Council has blocked the street to through traffic, I would suggest a good option is to remove Laman Street totally. It’s a very short street & access to the Art Gallery can be via Civic Park or from the side, just as the Art Gallery of NSW can be entered via the Domain. Even disabled parking at the sides would be as close as it is for the Art Gallery of NSW. Remove all the bitumen & concrete, put in paths to the Art Gallery, add some seating, plant & mulch.
If the trees scare you because of their height, borrow the Arborist from Sydney’s Botanical Gardens to do a proper prune & keep this beautiful asset for future generations. The trees are healthy even to their root system.
Please don’t chop down living treasures to grind chain-saw sculptures of dead artists. It’s too sad an idea to even contemplate. Leave Tasmania to be the only ones with tree stump sculptures. Have tourists come to see the fabulous Fig trees of Newcastle & have afternoon tea outside the Newcastle Art Gallery under the shade of the Laman Street Figs. Be known as the Mayor that saved the Laman Street Figs, not the Mayor who …. Oh, it’s just too awful to contemplate.
To read the Newcastle Herald Article -
You can read the follow-up post written on 1st September 2010 about the Independent Arborist Report by clicking here http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/independent-arborist-report-for-newcastles-laman-street-figs/