Good News and Bad News


Good neighbours

The good news is that council have allocated places to people who nominated for the charette.

A friend was told that everyone who nominated was successful. Our household received the pre-reading today. I love packages like that, even if there is going to be some upsetting or potentially slanted (even if not deliberately so) information in it.

I had last night seen some of the new documents on council’s website about Laman Street. I started to read the history document, written by Heritas Architecture, ‘Laman Street Fig Trees Cooks Hill NSW 2300 Heritage Assessment & Recommendations’ quite late and was pleased to receive a hard copy of it in the mail today.I found out by reading it that this is the third time in the trees’ history that removing them has been a possibility.

As early as 1957 council proposed removing the trees in the northwest part of the avenue but there was too much community opposition to carry out the plan. Heritas quote The Herald’s comment from the time:

‘Newcastle has an abundance of unobstructed views, but it has fewer trees than any other city in the Commonwealth. The Laman Street avenue may not be majestic, but it is precious in a  city so pathetically bereft of trees.’

The unobstructed view they talked about then of the cultural centre building is something that the Lord Mayor tried to reassure other councillors and the gallery about in December 2009 at the Public Voice meeting held at council.

I recall that he efficiently waved at onlookers a photo of the entrance to the building to show us how wonderful it is. I suspect the room was unimpressed.

He needs the comparison between this building and Concord Hospital – I put this in a previous post but it’s good enough to reproduce:

The Cultural Centre is the black and white building…

I do love this building from the inside: to stand at the entrance to the Lovett Gallery upstairs and look out at fig trees is lovely. And the statue of the huge couple in the foyer is something I’ve enjoyed since I was a child.

Two of the other documents on the council’s website that look promising from a quick look are the arborist’s report from February this year and the social impact statement.

The bad news is that the radar report wasn’t in the package and isn’t so far one of the key documents online. It does rate a mention as one of the documents examined by Adrian Swain, the second arborist. The exciting conclusion from his assessment is that due to council’s risk abatement strategies the trees are now below that magic risk figure of 1 in 10 000 that I completely blame doctors for and that really is quite silly.

This is an aside but I had a look for that damnable book ‘Living with risk’ from the British Medical Association that started the rumour that ‘acceptable risk’ is 1 in 10000. In the risk assessments done arborists quote this risk time and time again. This was based on work which I’ve been told was exhaustive and that is presented in this book. I hope the figure is not just opinion, but I’m expecting that it will be. I could have downloaded it last night but I don’t think I can cope with a book in that form. Since the book  was written in 1987, which from a medical point of view feels like ancient history, I’ll be interested to see what evidence there is for the 1 in 10000 figure that has driven us all nuts and which conservative councillors can use to beat treehuggers people who want the trees to be looked after over the head with.

I am yet to look at the QTRA document online so more on that in another post. It will probably make me spit chips, but we’ll see. And more in another post about a great email I received from an arborist I hadn’t contacted before who had some advice about tree preservation and SULE ratings – the safe useful life expectancy ratings of tree risk assessment and how subjective they can be.

I know nothing about pines and conifers but this tree has the shape of the pines scattered throughout Rome

There are many, many good people working at council and I’m sure the vast majority try to do an excellent job and do the best they can by this city and its residents. I despair at the culture of seeming to try to hide things, though.

This was highlighted this week by Jacqui Jones in The Herald:

Secret workshops draw flak from city councillors


11 Mar, 2010 01:00 AM

CITY Hall has come under fire from councillors, who say rules for a new audit committee will make civic business secret and fetter elected representatives.

It comes after councillors raised concerns about a conduct policy that they believed gagged comments to the media and community.

Use of secret workshops to decide civic business away from public scrutiny has also been alleged.

A new audit committee, including external rather than internal auditors, would bar all but two nominated councillors from meetings, unless granted a special invitation.

Previously, any councillor could attend.

Cr Michael Osborne said the new rules created unreasonable constraints.

“It’s . . . cutting councillors out,” he said.

“The concern is, councillors will be fettered in their role of looking after the governance of the city.

“Anything that’s held in secret is a concern. And the public has a legitimate concern or perception that things are being covered up.”

Lord Mayor John Tate is worried the proposed new rules could impede councillors’ rights.

The elected council has delayed adopting the rules until more information is provided.

The council’s administration did not respond to The Herald’s inquiries yesterday.

Thanks to Ali for sending me this link.See you at the charette. I can even call it that now without feeling like a complete eejit. Home

Nothing to do with trees


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4 Responses to “Good News and Bad News”

  1. Sharon Healey Says:

    Look at that beautiful face!
    What’s his vision of Laman Street?
    Ask him, i bet the trees are keepers!
    …and a leash free area maybe!

  2. Sean Freeman Says:

    Hi Caity,

    A few points that I really think should be made….Arborists are no different to any group of professional consultants just like others in the fields of engineering or architecture there are a wide range of views within our profession, and this is no more apparent than when it comes to the area of tree assessment.

    There really is nothing unusual about that, what is important is to be able to understand the justification for statements that a particular Arborist might make about a particular tree. What supporting evidence or argument is presented to support a particular view, and how convincing that is.

    It is always very hard to separate what a particular professional actually said or wrote from what is reported that they said or wrote…if you have access to the original reports then of course you are able to get to the heart of the matter (to some extent!)

    As a consulting Arborist who does apply QTRA methodology to many assessments of risk from trees or tree parts it is disappointing to think that elements of the theoretical foundation of the method are being misrepresented.

    “that magic risk figure of 1 in 10 000”

    “had a look for that damnable book ‘Living with risk’ from the British Medical Association that started the rumour that ‘acceptable risk’ is 1 in 10000. In the risk assessments done arborists quote this risk time and time again. This was based on work which I’ve been told was exhaustive and that is presented in this book. I hope the figure is not just opinion, but I’m expecting that it will be.”

    For me and many others that make use of the QTRA methodology 1/10,000 is not a line in the sand that once crossed spells the demise of any tree.

    Mike Ellison who developed QTRA wrote in 2005…
    “In the management of trees, a property owner or manager might adopt the 1/10,000 limit of acceptable risk or choose to operate to a higher or lower level.”

    And from the manual that each licensed user should have…

    “A probability of death or serious injury of 1/10,000 is suggested as the limit of acceptable risk to the public at large from the failure of any individual tree within one year of an assessment. Using the 1/10,000 limit, risks exceeding 1/10,000 should be considered for remedial action to reduce the risk to the 1/10,000 level, unless the risk is limited to an individual or selective group – such as a tree owner – who may choose to accept a greater or lesser risk. Additionally, the hazard could confer benefits, over and above the general benefits from trees and these might be set against the ‘Risk of Harm’, as is practiced in the management of industrial risk.”

    Only the most ill informed asset manager would refuse to acknowledge that in considering the risks posed to the general public (involuntary exposure to risk) no accounting should be given to the huge benefits and advantages the existence of their assets represents to the wider community.

    In other words you cannot carry out any truly representative evaluation of the risks without incorporating the benefits…if this was not the case we would live very, very different lives to the ones we currently enjoy.

    The annualized Risk of Harm of 1/10,000 represents to me (and many others) an acceptable threshold around which management intervention should be considered… We can provide the framework in which tree owners and managers can decide whether the point has been reached where the level of any identified risk exceeds the value gained by the presence of the tree.

    It seems to be the curse of human kind to want to simplify everything into a monochromatic version of reality…safe and unsafe are terms that really have little meaning in terms of trees given the inevitable consequence of being in close proximity to potentially very large very long lived organisms for which the shedding of parts is an integral element of their biological life cycle.


    Sean Freeman

  3. Caity Raschke Says:

    Thanks heaps. Any education I and the residents of Newcastle can receive on anything to do with arboriculture is gratefully received.
    I couldn’t agree more about an ill-informed council that fails to take into account the huge benefits of trees to balance the risk. I think it’s the cuture of the place rather than individuals obviously.
    My concern with the 1 in 10000 figure is that I believe it’s arbitrary but is used by conservatives to justify things like chopping down old trees. I know you’re saying that it should be a figure that one can choose to live with or not, but that is not how it has been presented to council, the media or residents. I think it’s not been in the interest of whoever has their heart set on removing these trees to present it in any other way.
    It seems to me that the history of problems in Laman Street are based on 1)the failed plan to demolish and rebuild the art gallery which was going to expose the trees to southerlies; when that plan went to God the plan to remove the trees didn’t go with it. One tree was removed from in front of the gallery in 2007 I think because it was thought not to have roots based on the trenching and was in front of the gallery. Mr Hewett took photographs which apparently showed ‘potential instability’.The photo of the trunk looks fantastic. Residents need more convincing in situations like this.(See pages 5 and 6 of Dennis Marsden’s investigation into 3 trees in Laman Street on council’s website.)2)The trenching in ?2006 that failed to show roots. In spite of a ground-penetrating radar report in 2009 paid for by council actually showing radial roots around 10 of the 14 trees, council paid to trench again at goodness-only knows what cost. As they’re keeping quiet about the results of this your guess about the results is as good as mine. 3)Obsession with insurance risks. This town removed play equipment from 48 parks 10 years ago and were only going to have 6 parks to replace them because of fears of litigation. Public pressure forced them to change their mind. I don’t know whether their experience with the earthquake is historically the cause of that obsession or whether it is just a fin de siecle and new millenium thing. The world seems to have tilted on its axis to accommodate insurers. 4)Elected councillors many of whom are fantastic and have been instrumental in keeping these trees so the public can have a (supposed) say but some are proud of the fact that they ‘make tough decisions’ and place no value on trees at all and are almost determined to get rid of them. This is the group who don’t look beyond a figure like 1 in 10000; I have no doubt they get mountains of paper to read and I admire how hard they must work. They rely on people with expert knowledge to advise them and this is where QTRA is so inaccessible to the untrained that it’s not questioned by people who are time-poor and trusting.
    I pored over the treelogic assessment into Laman Street and their figures are just bizarre: see pages 6-8
    1 in 19.8 will not be a figure that looks anything other than scary and starts out with the wrong premise anyway.
    In the year the trees fell they say the risk was 2/15 (p6) but the remaining trees survived so their risk must be much smaller; they work out a target rating of 1/2.64. This is the figure I understand the least because even if I use their flawed calculation of frequency of cars and pedestrians (flawed because the library is closed on Sundays) I work out that 5% of the time over a week there is a person or a car near a tree. How does that turn into a rating of 1/2.64? I’m happy to be told I’m an idiot about this and have it made clearer to me.
    I really appreciate your interest and my apologies if my passion and cynicism combined make me say offensive things about QTRA.

  4. Sean Freeman Says:

    Hi Caity,

    I have not found anything you have written to be offensive in any way, and it is quite right and proper that you along with any other Newcastle residents concerned about their living assets should apply a detailed and critical analysis of any approach applied to the assessment of the health and stability of those trees.

    My concern is with a possible mistaken perception of what QTRA (or any other tree risk assessment method for that matter) is capable of providing.

    As I said before if any figure is being presented as the “red line” then there needs to be a great deal of clear detailed and rational justification for holding such a position….and within that rational there absolutely has to be proper weight given to the enormous values and benefits represented by trees such as those along Laman Street.

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