We were forewarned by chief arborist


Selwyn Street in Paddington

I was looking through old Herald articles trying to find the dirt goods on previous general managers and spin information on council tree policy and I found several good articles. Some of them had an eerie feel about them.Jeff Corbett had a great article on tree risk assessment when all this nonsense about Laman Street’s trees being unsafe came up in December last year:


A cry for Laman’s figs

Author: Jeff Corbett
Date: 07/12/2009
          Publication: Newcastle Herald
Section: News
Page: 8
NEWCASTLE’S Laman Street figs are truly monumental, great girths rising to a green canopy that reminds us how small we are, and the boulevard of 14 trees drenches us in the coolest shade.As a teenager I was conscious of their majesty as I walked through the boulevard to the library ostensibly to study, and so many times over the decades since I’ve had the sense that their presence is a privilege. Being under the boulevard’s canopy relaxes me in much the same way an open fire does.  As you know the trees are to be cut down, their only chance now an unlikely rescission motion expected to go before Newcastle City Council tomorrow week.  It is part of what appears to me to be the denuding of Newcastle. Avenues of figs and other trees have been removed from streets throughout Newcastle, and in many cases the loss has been great. The visual change in one street that lost its trees almost silently, Alexander Street at Hamilton South, was shocking.  

Will all the 124 mature fig trees in Cooks Hill be cut down? The Norfolk pines in that suburb’s Centennial Park and in King Edward Park?  

The chainsaw gangs won’t stop at Cooks Hill. They didn’t stop at The Hill, when most of us assumed that the removal of the grand fig trees of Tyrrell Street was essential; the chainsaws just moved into suburbs further out to allow, I suspect, a lull before returning.  

There are mature figs and gum trees throughout Newcastle’s older suburbs and parks, many standing alone and others in groves and boulevards. If the reason for the cutting down of the Laman Street figs is valid, the removal of all of these trees will be valid.  

That reason is public risk.  

A report to Newcastle council last month states that a quantified tree risk assessor found that the risk of a Laman Street tree or branch falling and injuring someone is 500 times greater than the upper limit of acceptable risk. The assessment was based on the premise that acceptable risk from a tree should be of an order greater than the ratio of 1:10,000, and the assessor found that the probability of significant harm from each Laman St tree is 1:19.8.  

But what is the number one in those ratios? What is the 10,000? If we express this as meaning that we can expect to walk under the tree 10,000 times without being crushed, the assessed risk is that we can expect to walk under that tree only 19.8 times before we’re crushed.  

Is that nonsense?  

Let’s look at it another way. The danger posed by each Laman Street tree, we’re told, is 500 times greater than the upper limit of acceptable risk, and it’s not hard to see, then, that trees presenting a danger just 250 times the acceptable risk will have to go too. There must be in Newcastle a great many of these trees just half as dangerous as Laman Street’s figs.  

What about trees that are 100 times the acceptable risk? No doubt about it, 100 times the acceptable risk is unacceptable even if these thousands of trees throughout Newcastle are only a fifth as dangerous as the Laman Street figs. They’ve gotta go.  

Fifty times, 20 times, 10 times the acceptable risk is too high. Twice the acceptable risk? Just twice is still double the upper limit of acceptable risk. Newcastle and its suburbs will be pulsating with the screech of chainsaws.  

While two Laman Street figs were blown down by the June 2007 storm, the 14 there today survived that terrible weekend-long tempest. A 20-metre gum tree in my backyard did not, crashing to the ground on the first night of the storm. I wonder what its risk rating would have been.  

Newcastle council has now a risk-abatement strategy for the Laman Street boulevard when the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts wind greater than 80kmh the council closes that part of Laman Street to vehicles and pedestrians and checks the trees’ stability before reopening the street.  

Can it not continue to do this? Might reducing the wind-speed trigger make this precaution more acceptable?  

'Fig Jam' protest; photo by Alison Dunne

Going back a few years Mr Corbett wrote about a conversation he had with Mr Hewett, our chief arborist.

This will send a shiver up the spine of people who attended the charade last weekend.  

It’s plain that he has been driven by this anti-veteran tree policy for years. No mature tree is safe. If this is a fashion amongst arborists in general, we’re all in trouble. Can you believe that this is how they think?  

All in the alleged name of safety…  

Remember how many people are killed in Australia by street trees: on average 1 a year.  

Remember Ian McKenzie’s walk around Newcastle after the Pasha Bulker storm, looking at trees that had failed in the high winds: the majority of these were not defective trees.  

If you really want to be safe, you’ll have no trees, just a lot of miserable, hot people with skin cancer . We wouldn’t be able to maintain our infrastructure at our current (inadequate) level because council would be spending all its money on bitumen which would be wearing away in the sunlight and heat.  

Mr Hewett wouldn’t give the charade attendees any hints on species choice.

Well, if I had done my homework I could have argued that with him.

(I did nothing but argue with him at the charette, along with a number fo other council employees.When I tried to discuss the QTRA assessments with him he asked me if I were trained in QTRA, which basically finished the conversation.

I suppose I should not have taken that as a challenge to shut up, but that’s how it came across.)

He mentions some species choices in the following article.How much shade do you think a lilly pilly or magnolia provide? We’re not talking about huge magnolias here, we’re talking about tiny ones. And I love both these species; but I know when I’m walking along a street on a 40 degree day there’s not going to be any relief from the sun.  

     Ageing figs face chop across city

Date: 27/02/2003
                      Publication: Newcastle Herald
Section: News
Page: 3    
A DISTINCTIVE feature of Newcastle will disappear over the next 15 years with the city’s fig trees to be felled as they start to decay.  Newcastle City Council arborist Phil Hewett said the figs were rotting and dying, posing a public risk.  Some of them are close to 90 years old.  

Mr Hewett said the trees would be replaced but not necessarily with other figs.  

The likely species were the evergreen magnolia, the lilly pilly, watergums or the cut leaf plane, which were more suited to cities because their roots were less prone to intrude into pipes and cables or buckle paths.  

Figs would be replanted in parks, where they caused less underground damage.  

Nine of the city’s prominent figs face imminent removal. The doomed trees are in Civic Park, Church Street, Islington Park, Dan Rees Street, Wallsend, and Denison Street, Hamilton.  

Mr Hewett said a new piece of equipment, a resistograph or “smart drill”, had been used to confirm the trees needed the chop.  

The resistograph burrows into the tree and the amount of resistance felt on the drill determines whether the wood is healthy, rotting or hollow.  

Mr Hewett said this technique was part of the “holistic” approach the council applied to tree management.  

He said tree management policies included devising ways to avoid damage to trees while carrying out city works, better maintenance of trees, prevention of cars from intruding into parks and avoiding having to remove trees prematurely.  

Mr Hewett calculated that Newcastle’s 56,000 street trees contributed about $9.6 million in environmental benefits to the city.  

Quoting an Adelaide University study, he said it estimated that each street tree contributed $172 a year in environmental benefits, such as better air quality and protection from skin cancer.  

It reported that trees contributed to the control of storm water by slowing urban run-off.  

Research suggests that shade from trees can double the life of bitumen roads because they protect the binding agents in the tar.  

Mr Hewett said achieving 40 per cent coverage of a suburban area with a street tree canopy could mean a “massive contribution” to society.  


Newcastle had an estimated 10 per cent canopy cover at best, he said.    

US research indicated trees in urban areas helped check crime, increase a child’s capacity to learn and increase real estate value.    

“Humans hate being without trees,” Mr Hewett said.    

“There is a deep connection there.”    

Strategically planted trees made people feel better.    

“They provide a sense of place, a sense of community,” Mr Hewett said.    

    ”    ”   
From NBN’s website: story by Andrew Lobb.



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