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Some great things happened over the weekend regarding Newcastle’s iconic Laman Street Fig trees –
- A tent embassy was erected at Civic Park over the weekend to protest the removal of the Laman Street Fig trees. There were around 10 tents with residents sleeping overnight in the park.
- On Sunday night, Lord Mayor John Tate served papers on Newcastle Council’s General manager saying that, “there was concern that proper procedure had not been followed leading up to the order to cut the trees down, & two councillors missed last Thursday’s meeting.” – so the trees are still standing.
- About 250 people came to Civic Park at 5.30am this morning to form a picket line to prevent the trees from being chopped down.
I find it interesting that the rest of us mortals cannot start any building or noisy work before 7am & 8am on Sundays, but Newcastle Council could have trees chopped down at 6am. They probably thought the community would not attend at such an early hour, not suspecting that such a large crowd would arrive even earlier & on a Monday. http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/laman-street-figs-get-last-minute-reprieve/2272790.aspx
Community group Save Our Figs say that the independent assessment could be done for a cost of $20,000 of which they would pay half & that the reported cost of $70,000 was “wildly exaggerated.” Once again, the community is prepared to pay thousands of dollars to ensure an unbiased decision is made because they do not trust Newcastle Council.
Newcastle Council has even refused the offer of local businessman Roman Fidyk of the company MyFleet who offered to pay for the dynamic testing of the trees. (about $35,000). Mr Fidyk “… was amazed at the council’s lack of interest in his offer.”
I don’t understand why the Council does not take up either of these options. To do anything else, when both the community & the Lord Mayor, are advocating more examinations, leaves the impression that the Council has something to hide. Even the urgency to cut the trees today is a mirage, because the insurance company extended the deadline until the end of October 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-29/figs-reprieve/2860094/?site=newcastle
My last post on the Laman Street Figs is here - http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/the-laman-street-figs-next-life-will-be-mulch/
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
On 21st June 2011 the Bureau of Meteorology warned of wind gusts of 110 km/h buffeting the Hunter ahead of a strong cold front. Suddenly the weather becomes interesting because once again the Laman Street Fig trees in Newcastle are fighting for their lives. Statewide Mutual, who insures Newcastle City Council sent a letter of demand – the trees must be removed by 31st August 2011 unless Council can provide new evidence that the trees won’t fall down. If Council does not chop down the trees, any incident will not be covered by insurance, putting the Council between a rock & a hard place.
It seems that Statewide Mutual doesn’t have a copy of the community contracted Arborists Report by Mark Hartley, a renown & respected Arborist in Australia. Looking at his webpage, it’s hard to understand why his opinion that these trees are safe is being ignored. http://treedoc.com.au/ Another respected Arborist, veteran tree specialist Sean Freeman has publicly stated that he supports Mark Hartley’s assessment of the Laman Street Figs after viewing the report & inspecting the trees himself. http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/arborist-questions-fig-tree-safety-risk/1951564.aspx
Newcastle Councillor Bob Cook brought the Laman Street Figs back into the spotlight on 31st May 2011 before the letter of demand by Statewide Mutual by calling for the trees removal. He also suggested monitoring the trees with an accelerometer on a number of occasions over 6-15 months for a cost of up to $100,000. The cost alone is enough to make most people concede defeat.
An accelerometer measures the movement of the tree when pulled, mimicking the conditions of high winds. Thing is, Mother Nature has tested the trees for free on 4 occasions since the Pasha Bulka storm in June 2007. This storm was described as a ‘mini cyclone.’ It beached the oil tanker Pasha Bulka aground on Nobbies Beach & smashed Newcastle, yet the Laman Street trees standing today made it through that storm (and others since) unaffected.
Clr Cook has written to the community saying they are “in denial” & “clutching at straws.”