Initial thoughts on last charette session


Started the day out with an email I sent to councillors:  

‘That Council form a community design process using place making principles for the Civic and cultural precinct of Laman Street.  

To consider the arboricultural advice, the relevant resource and risk issues, and the full range of options available to Council and the community to address the future of these trees and make an appropriate recommendation to Council.’  

This as you will recall was what council resolved in December 2009.   

The full range of options available to council have not been considered.   

 The only arboricultural advice that was considered or presented to the attendees at the design charette was Mr Hewett’s view [the council arborist] which is to fell the trees, backed up by lots of allegations that large trees have been rotting away before our eyes for a decade or more, based on bizarre reasons like the soil in Civic Park is industrial waste.  

 He actually said to the room that ‘Newcastle has moved beyond tree preservation and into tree replacement.’   

  • When attendees tried to discuss the future of the Laman Street trees the discussion was cut short time and time again.
  • Mr Hewett dismissed discussion of root amelioration, which is widely practised for mature and veteran trees in America and is known by academic arboriculturists in our own region.
  • He refused to give advice about possible tree species choice for possible future replacements. I can only assume this is because none will be satisfactory.
  • The information presented by an external arborist in relation to the findings of the ground-penetrating radar were incorrect and therefore misleading.He seemed to have very little experience in this area. [Council should have had an expert in GPR to talk to the group.]
  • There was no discussion of the fact that Adrian Swain [an arborist] whom council commissioned to do a peer review of Dennis Marsden’s report [Mr Marsden’s report from August 2009 was the only piece of aboricultural information sent to attendees at the charette: not the more positive information from Mr Swain or the radar report] has assessed the street as currently safe with a QTRA rating of 1 in 14400.
  • There was also no discussion of the fact that in Mr Swain’s report of Feb 2010  he points out that there is no basis for Mr Marsden’s assertion that certain trees have no roots.

I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that they assumed the trees were safe from a tree-felling policy. They are going to be mighty disappointed when what is served up to them is another Tyrrell Street.  

 This process is being watched by councils all over the country.It sets a precedent for every mature tree in our city, if not the whole nation. You must find it most unsatisfactory that council employees have not fulfilled your objectives as stated in the resolution.’  

Is this pond ever cleaned?

 As Basil Brush used to say,you could have  knocked  me down and called me Nancy because this is exactly how we started out the morning at the charette: talking about how the full range of arboricultural advice  hasn’t been sought or available.  

Today was so different from last time. We cut right to the chase today and addressed the future of the trees, something I felt was neglected on the first two days. Then it felt as though discussions and comments were cut short; there was a reasonable level of rancour in the group and we were polarised,It felt, between people who felt the trees had had their day and who believed that the arborists were giving us information in a reproducible and transparent manner, and those of us who felt that unless you dealt with the future of the trees the whole exercise was a waste of time and who were less carried along with the doom and gloom advice about tree health and remain scarred by past experience with municipal tree management.  

After the inital sessions, for the first time in my life, I felt like leaving town. It all seemed fairly hopeless, as though this poor town was doomed to become uglier and drier and hotter. I thought we would lose one of our greatest assets, our mature figs and then all our mature trees. Honestly, once you start looking you see them everywhere and the difference between council managers and residents is that they see completely different things; one sees overblown risk  and  the woman/man in the street sees a poem or a meditation or a tree to climb or shade to sit under or tree to provide oxygen to a home for birds and other animals.  

What’s that quote? A wise man sees not the same tree as a fool?  


I loved the story one of the lecturers gave two weeks ago  about a man in Sydney who used to propagate fig trees in the 30s, and  who was asked by an important institution like Centennial Parklands or Sydney Botanic Gardens (I’m sorry – I should have taken notes)  to supply them with trees and he had to decline for some time as he was too busy growing trees for Newcastle!  

Perhaps the fact that communication seemed more open today, less micro-managed and less  stifled was a function of the smaller number of people: holding the charette on a working day, between 9 and 12, and during school holidays cut about half the group out. Early on this morning, attendees were able to express their fear that the trees would be lost and we would see another Tyrrell Street, and both the facilitators and the audience dealt to a degree with the fact that the second part of the resolution had not been carried out.  

I thought most people at the charette today expressed a fervent desire to keep the trees for as long as possible and to replace them when the time came with a tree that would create a cathedral-like canopy. It was brought up that that had been promised in Tyrrell Street and wasn’t delivered and that this had destroyed people’s trust.  

The other main thing I came away with was the difficulty we had trying to get experts to recommend a tree species to replace Hill’s figs if they seriously believe they cannot use them again.There were at least two council arborists in the room, as well as a landscape architect and we’re still waiting for an answer to that question. Mr Hewett was asked and he gave us one option – a Kauri Pine and then became distracted talking doom and gloom again. In Tyrrell Street I believe the first choice of tree was a lillypilly – I’ve never seen one provide the canopy we used to have there. Of course, when they died ?for lack of water they were replaced with my favourite – tuckeroos. Not a canopy tree either.  

I was heartened when he denied that he thought there was a rush to remove these trees.  


I was disappointed again (like on the first day of the charette) that when I tried to engage Mr Hewett in a discussion about QTRA he took – call me over-sensitive and paranoid – what I perceived to be a bullying tone and asked me whether I am trained in QTRA. I asked him if only people trained in it can talk about it and I think we then degenerated into talking over the top of each other. I asked him whether he could not see that the assessment of the street as having a rating of 1 in 19.8 was not simply ridiculous and he disagreed entirely. I still like the guideline that Mike Ellison (a QTRA expert) uses – if a rating is counter-intuitive then have another look at it.  

I still don’t think Mr Hewett got the message from the room that tree amelioration has not been looked at.  

It seemed we reached a Catch-22 situation – we couldn’t, apparently, choose a tree species unless we decided on a design for the street and we couldn’t design the street unless we chose a tree. What twaddle.  

I said that in my opinion every council in Australia would take notice of how we managed this issue and that the fate of every mature fig in Newcastle was affected by the decision about Laman Street. There were some snorts at the time, presumably from people who think that’s paranoid hyperbole, but Mr Hewett himself said it several times through the morning. Watch out, Newcastle.  Home


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One Response to “Initial thoughts on last charette session”

  1. Ali Says:

    Thanks for the update, personally i am very grateful that you were able to attend & to provide such prompt feedback. As someone who is acutely aware of the pending battle for the Boulevarde Toronto’s Main st Fig trees in Lake Macquarie LGA. I am also aware that others are watching to see the fate of Laman St Figs & how NCC & the Community deals with the issue. I think you are correct to believe that this battle will set a precedent, beyond Newcastle.

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