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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.”   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. has the whole story & it makes interesting reading.

Today’s news about last night’s Council Meeting –

Mayor Tate’s rescission motion against the axing of the Laman Street Fig trees was put to the vote in Newcastle Council Meeting last night & was successful. Newcastle Council will now participate in mediation with the community over the Fig trees.

“Former High Court judge Michael McHugh will conduct the mediation between council & Save Our Figs.  His fee is estimated at $6,000 a day, with Save Our Figs to contribute towards the cost & councillor Tate offering his August councillor allowance.  Council’s insurer, Statewide Mutual, will also be invited to attend the mediation.”

The community also tabled a petition to save the Laman Street Fig trees that contained 10,323 signatures. This is the largest petition ever tabled in Newcastle Council’s history & “just short of the largest petition tabled in the New South Wales Parliament.”

Newcastle Council needs to listen to its community.  The petition is only one of the many actions & activities that the Newcastle community has done in their lengthy fight against Newcastle Council to save their beloved Laman Street Fig trees. Tree experts have also been brave enough to professionally oppose Newcastle Council’s appraisal of the safety of these trees.  They too should not be ignored.

a view of part of the canopy of the Laman Street Figs from Civic Park

Internationally recognized Arborists, Jeremy Barrell & David Cashman are interviewed about the Laman Street Fig trees in this YouTube video.  They were both keynote speakers at the International Society of Arboriculture international conference ‘Trees Downunder,’ held in Sydney last week.

What they say is profoundly different to what Newcastle City Council say regarding the safety of these trees.

Their bios are as follows & show that they are both highly qualified & very capable of making a professional assessment of the safety & management of the Laman Street Figs –

“Jeremy Barrell, UK based eminent arborist is a sought-after keynote speaker who presented on risk & legal liability at the ISA international conference in Sydney 23rd-27th July “Trees Downunder” & has authored numerous papers & articles on tree management. He designed the SULE & TreeAZ methods of tree assessment, which are used around the world in construction site management.

David Cashman, also presented at the ISA International conference. His focus for the conference is on tree roots in London’s built environment & working with & around them. He has worked in local government & commercial tree management for 30 years. David has delivered training workshops in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, & the United States, & is an accredited Cardiff University Expert Witness.”

When you have the designer of SULE  (Safe, Useful, Life Expectancy) method of tree assessment say the Laman Street Fig trees are safe & have decades, if not 100-more years of life left in them, you have a right to question what has been said previously about these trees.

Newcastle Councillors vote on whether the trees stay or go tonight. Mayor Tate brought the fate of these iconic & much loved trees back to Council by putting up a rescission motion.  Let’s hope the Councillors take the time to watch this video.  It is well worth watching.

If you want to see these beautiful trees, the following videos are also good viewing –

A True Anzac Memorial – & The Laman Street Protest Movie. (This one also shows one of the 69 evening vigils where the community came out to peacefully protest to save these trees.  69 times!) –

Part of the canopy of the Laman Street Figs as seen from Civic Park

Grass tree flower

1.  Last night the Newcastle Councillors voted 7-5 to chop down the Laman Street Fig trees.  From the Herald, Newcastle councillors were still debating the future of Laman Street last night when council staff moved in & began preparations to cut down the street’s iconic fig trees. Councillors eventually voted seven to five in favour of removing & replacing the trees ‘‘as soon as practical.”  By the time the decision was made, council staff had moved safety barriers & were planning to start the chainsaws as early as this morning. The council’s liveable city director Frank Cordingley admitted during a heated debate that preparations were under way to remove the trees, despite the council not having voted at the time.”   Save Our Figs has written about the Council Meeting & decision.  The video covers the history of the fight to save these trees. It’s well worth watching. –

2. Liverpool Council has negotiated with power company Endeavour Energy to remove & replace street trees in 4 locations after being accused by the community of “butchering scores of trees on Liverpool’s streets.”  Liverpool Council’s General Manager said, “Changes to operations were needed to avoid hatchet jobs in the future.”

3.  Northern Territory residents are concerned that trees on the Significant Tree Register are not protected form Council workers who come to prune the trees.  One worker was unaware that the tree was registered as significant.

4.  The community failed to save 3 Fig trees in Main Avenue, Windsor, a suburb of Brisbane despite doing a tree sit.  Brisbane City Council recently lifted a 15-year-old protection order so the trees could be chopped down to allow development. “The 60-year-old figs, which stand on the prestigious Eldon Hill in Windsor, are visible from as far away as Mt Gravatt & Mt Coot-tha.”  The owner of the land is required to plant 3 native trees as replacements.  2 possums were found in the trees.  The community clashed with security unhappy with the attempts to catch the possums.  The possums were not caught.  One of the residents said, ‘‘We can’t trust our elected representatives when they tell us something is protected … until there is some sort of economic benefit that someone is going to get out of it.’’   There is a short video of the trees & the protest here –

5.  The founder of travel clothing group Kathmandu Jan Cameron & travel entrepreneur Graeme Wood bought Gunns timber mill for $10 million paying $6 million less than a rival bidder.  Gunns will operate for a while before being made into an eco tourism destination.

6.  City of Sydney Council is planning to increase the street tree canopy of the CBD by 50% by planting 2,000 trees over the next 20 years. They say this will reduce the urban heat island effect by up to 2 degrees.  69 species of tree will be used. Allergy sufferers in the community are concerned that some of these will be Plane trees.  Cowper Wharf Road at Woolloomooloo would get a row of Sydney red gums, City Road at Broadway a line of brush box trees, Bridge Street a collection of Celtis, & Elizabeth Street a group of plane trees.”  While I think the extra trees is wonderful, I’d be interested to know why it will take 20 years to complete.

7.  Congratulations to the residents of Wilga Avenue Dulwich Hill who recently won Origin Energy’s Australia-wide Sustainability Drive Competition.  They were only one of 4 streets across Australia that were chosen to get $250,000 of solar panels, hot water systems & other energy saving equipment. As I understand, their energy saving progress will be monitored & over the next year so we are bound to hear more about Wilga Avenue.  It’s great to see a street in Marrickville LGA represented with sustainable living, including veggie gardens on the verge.

8.  Willoughby City Council was the winner of the ‘Excellence in Overall Environmental Management’ award (Local Government Awards category) at the recent World Environment Day Awards held by the United Nations Association of Australia.  Willoughby Council has met their greenhouse gas reduction target of 50% from 1999 levels. They are using a cogeneration plant at the Willoughby Leisure Centre, estimated to cut power usage form the grid by 50%. They are also using solar power at council buildings & aim to be the first ‘halogen free’ council.

Gorgeous Bottle Brush tree in Tempe



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.   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.

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.”

More than 10,000 people signed a petition to save the the Laman Street Fig trees & night vigils were held on 69 occasions

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.

These gloriously beautiful Fig trees are the crown jewels of Newcastle city

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 –

Today’s Newcastle Herald has a great article about the trees –

Lastly, you must visit Save Our Figs to read the account of last night’s Newcastle Council Meeting. It’s happy reading –



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