Council update on Laman Street sneaks onto webpage

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It’s been a calendar month since the vote to consult with the community about the fate of the Laman Street figs.

I can’t count how many times I have checked the council’s website. Within days of the vote (15/12/09) their site said details of the planned process would appear within a week. In the weeks after it failed to appear, I talked to two arborists and a council officer and then decided that I was making a nuisance of myself. Why that worried me is beyond me. We need to be nuisances more often.

So I thought – I know, I’ll subscribe to the council’s e-news. I would have thought an update on the state of play on the figs was news but apparently the council doesn’t think so.

The page (click on this link) was updated on Friday 15/1/2010. I saw it for the first time tonight. It wasn’t mentioned in the e-news at all.

The page is somewhat as I expected – it starts negatively:

Hill’s fig trees planted by Civic leaders – thought to be the same stock plants as Centennial Park, Sydney that had inherent structural weakness in branch systems. In the same time frame Hill’s Fig plantings associated with BHP steelworks amenity planting still visible along Industrial Drive west from Ingall Street Mayfield – also surrounding the Phoenix Club.

and goes on in the same vein.

My initial thoughts include the following points on this paragraph alone:

  • it’s unknown whether branch inclusions are a problem inherent in the plant or an effect of how they are cared for.
  • It’s typical spin to state opinion as fact: a tried and true method to convince at least some of the punters.
  • In a brief look at the Centennial Parklands site I have so far found no mention of  inherent weaknesses.I’ll look more tomorrow.
  • If the Mayfield figs were planted at the same time and they have branch weaknesses and included bark, how come the branches aren’t dropping off at an alarming rate and the trees falling over? Council will presumably say that the alleged instability in Laman Street trees is due to being planted in bitumen.
  • The trees all along the road at the side of the Phoenix Club look fantastic and if there have been lots of tree and branch failures it wasn’t apparent when I made a visual inspection of them recently.
  •  Pity the poor specimens that were in the way of the Gateway Inn. Council should and could have demanded that the development be designed in a different way so that the figs towards the corner could have been retained.

Have a read here of council’s major focus, their Risk Management Policy. We all know it’s what they have used as the ostensible reason for wanting to carry out such an excessive act as take down the whole stand of figs.

They say

Advice received by Council rejects engineering solutions such as cabling remaining trees in order to increase stability.

I do hope that they are not just talking about Mr Marsden’s report because he spent approximately half a page dismissing any options other than removing the trees, so one could hardly call this ‘advice on engineering solutions’. Cabling is hardly the only other option.

Another example of stating opinion as fact is

The legacy of [the former] management approach has produced large mature trees with serious structural problems, despite the fact that most of the trees still appear healthy.

There is one tree that is said to be in urgent need of removal; the others have years before they’ll fall down, and that’s the opinion of the council-appointed arborist. I’d love to turn back time and have council ask his opinion about how they could preserve these trees at any cost. I’d also like a community-appointed panel of arborists to assess trees that the community believe are priceless.

My favourite part is

The Unacceptable Risk Test

Council’s independent advice found the Laman Street trees pose an unacceptable risk.

To manage this unacceptable risk council has developed a risk abatement strategy for general and extreme weather events.

There are currently temporary measures in place (for example signage and parking restrictions) to minimise the risk until the design for the street is resolved.’

The unacceptable risk test is another assertion stated as fact. QTRA, I understand, says that the community think if the risk of something happening is greater than 1 in 10 000 then they will not accept that risk.

Please show me the survey or the research on which this figure is based. Some of us will accept no risk at all and others will tolerate the opposite. From my reading in QTRA the figure was chosen arbitrarily. I am more than happy to be educated on this – leave a comment or email me.

In The Herald Jeff Corbett wrote a great piece on risk, as did Greg Ray (see earlier posts) and there is a post on this site that is on risk management quotes and that tries to highlight the uncertainty in tree risk assessment.

At the time I wrote about risk management I had not read Mr Dennis Marsden’s quote (see independent experts post) that the signs of biological decay may not be visible and that if branch failure has happened before it is likely to happen again.

What I took away from this is that sometimes the only way you can condemn a tree as dangerous is if a branch has fallen off it in the past. Hardly incredibly scientific. The good thing in Laman Street is surely the absence of branch failures. 

In the history section in 2006 :

‘Art Gallery redevelopment investigations – trenching in the road found no structural support roots for southern and northern trees – investigation concluded that tree root plates were eccentric (asymmetric)’

Elsewhere they say:

‘A case study of Newcastle’s Hills Fig trees shows there are a number of structural and other problems common to this species.

These issues include:

  • Root rot
  • Linear root plate formation
  • Crown asymmetry
  • Multiple leaders with bark inclusions’

You’d be forgiven for believing that all these issues have been found in Newcastle’s Hill’s figs  but I think it’s just a badly worded paragraph.

Look at Historical Context of Laman Street trees where the language is again a problem:

  • thought to be … problem…stock’ ;
  • thought to be root damage’ at the time of the Cultural centre construction’ – have you seen the picture of how small the trees were at that time? (see independent experts post);
  • expected‘ root damage in 1970s;
  • and ‘to date: Ongoing utility trenching excavation for installation/repair’. I’m unclear as to what this is referring to: I know there was trenching at the time that the Art Gallery was to be redeveloped. A council officer presented this to me as having been done in order to ascertain what the roots were like, not to work on utilities.

One of the sad things is the lack of discussion in this update about the importance of the trees. It’s all about what they say are the risks of the trees and completely ignores their benefits. It pays lip-service to the trees’ iconic status and that’s the pro argument made.

There’s also nothing said about why something like 20 figs were removed from Tyrrell Street when there were alleged problems with two.

And I love this:the notice of motion on 9 Sept 2008 that

“Council replace the two removed Hills Fig trees with an appropriate species at the eastern end of Laman Street, near Newcastle Region Art Gallery (one on each side of the street) as a matter of priority”.

We’re all still waiting.

More soon.                                                            Home

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One Response to “Council update on Laman Street sneaks onto webpage”

  1. Ali Says:

    thankyou for your continued efforts. the ncc spin is so thick it makes you that dizzy you near want to throw up!

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