Pictures of tree failures – not


I’m grateful to Mr Doug Lithgow from the Parks and Playgrounds Movement for photos of the Laman Street figs after the Pasha Bulker storm which happened on 8th June 2007.

I asked him for these because we’d only ever been shown the underwhelming photo in a recent post of the gap between the gutter and the fig roots that represented a fig root failure.

These photos were taken soon after the terrible storm when the Pasha Bulker ran aground which is said by Newcastle Council to have led to the failure of the figs in Laman Street. These alleged failures are what dog the street to this day.

In the photos do you see upturned trunks and root balls? Do you see the road surface ripped by the force of a falling tree? Do you see cars crushed by trees? Do you see branch failures? No, no, no and no.

Around this time I recall someone telling me they had asked the crew to explain why they were taking a tree out and they were told that it had root rot. No doubt this is what was fed to them and they loyally repeated it. – Don’t forget we were told at the charette that many of the figs in Civic Park have root rot.

The tree with root rot was presumably the tree that was accused of ‘potential instability’ that was standing outside the art gallery – see pic in previous post. A builder who lives in the area was fairly amazed at how wonderful the supposedly rotten wood looked when the tree was reduced to a stump.

The stumps looking forlorn in the sunset picture are in Tyrrell Street. These had dangerous root plates. Yeah, right. You probably know the crime of these trees were to be in the half of the street needing substation renovation, where three of the trees had had their roots significantly vandalised in council work. In this photo it’s not obvious to a lay person that there’s a problem with the root plates – I’ll wager most of Newcastle doesn’t think there was a problem. Remember Mike Ellison, the QTRA expert who said that if a tree risk assessment was very different from one’s intuitive assessment it needed to be redone?

All the above stumps look sturdily rooted in the ground, don’t they? What a shame we’re not experts in this field, poor ignorant things that we are.

The mature fig in Hamilton is one of the saddest photos. This was taken out because it was ‘senescent’ and replaced with a Port Jackson fig in a $30 000 vault that may be a decent size in twent years. This was in 2003 as part of the policy to have a sustainable urban forest.

To my shame I didn’t notice or even know about this tree at the time. In comparison to so many other figs in Newcastle it looks like the mature tree was about halfway through its life cycle rather than nearing its end.

This very tree was saved from destruction in the 1950s  by Mayor Purdue. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were talking in a few years about how the Laman Street trees were saved by the Lord Mayor and council – and if we could remember the councillors gratefully by name that would be fantastic. We can tell our children who they were and name streets or parks after them.

At the charette the infrastructure manager said this tree was ‘lost’. Mr Lithgow reminded him that council chopped it down.

On council’s website it’s quoted that ongoing risk management of Laman Street as it is now will cost $30000-$40000: for pruning (wish they’d stop), closing the street in high winds (hear, hear), tree assessment and signage. I’m very against using consultants for things that councils have the expertise to do but I wonder how much an outside arborist with an interest in tree preservation would cost council and I wish I knew more about creative accounting. They already have the signs, and they presumably keep the barriers to close the street in that awful brown container at the corner so it costs nothing in storage (except the cost to the beauty of our cultural precinct of keeping that awful container there).

I could suggest some savings in pruning – figs rarely drop branches and these trees don’t have troublesome notch defects or included bark so the practice of making the trees look dreadful by cutting branches off them could probably be slowed, at a cost saving to ratepayers.

There was an example of a branch failure in Swan Street in Cooks Hill and council have kindly left the stump as a reminder of it. A council officer told me that they had to counsel a resident – who  was hit but not injured by this branch – for two hours before she agreed that the whole tree had to be removed.

The other thing that is in the minutes of a council meeting is more council opinion/spin as fact:

‘During the last decade significant issues with respect to the maintenance and safety of Hills figs used as street trees in a number of locations across the city have arisen. In the case of the Laman Street-Civic Precinct Hills figs, planted in the 1930s, road works and the subsequent installation and maintenance of underground public utilities including electricity, stormwater and water supply have created structurally compromised root plates resulting in greatly reduced ability to withstand wind loading.

The Hills figs trunk and branch structure along with pruning techniques used on these trees in their early development have weakened crown architecture leaving a canopy that is prone to rapid and unpredictable failure. These defects and associated risks have been identified by Council and independent arborists.

The results of the independent Quantified Tree Risk Assessment indicate that the Laman Street figs pose a significant risk to public safety and Council must implement risk abatement strategies.

In response to these identified risks and to exercise its duty of care, Council’s Infrastructure Management Services developed and implemented a range of risk management options. This includes the restriction of public access to this area when mean wind speeds exceed 50 km/hr. This risk management regime has been in place since December 2009 and is causing severe disruption to public access to and the operation of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery and the War Memorial Cultural Centre (Library) also caused the reduction and/or relocation of a number of regular special events staged in this area. Other stakeholders within the precinct including the Baptist Tabernacle and St Andrews Church and Community Pre-
School have also endured operational disruptions under this regime.

It was clear at the workshop that the majority of participants placed a high value on the sense of place, visual amenity, shade, heritage and ecological values provided by the existing Hills figs and that these qualities need to be incorporated into any future redevelopment of this area. There was robust debate around the topic of the level of risk presented to public safety by the trees, however, the overwhelming majority of those present accepted that the risks required mitigation by Council in both the
short and long term and that where possible, replacement plantings needed to be staged to maintain the social, aesthetic, heritage and ecological values of trees in the public domain.’

I don’t know how they judged that a majority of people felt this way as no poll was taken and the meeting wasn’t recorded except in a cursory fashion.

The photos above and the photo of the gap in the gutter in an earlier post are the only evidence we have of the so-called dangerous tree failures. The risk doesn’t outweigh the trees’ amenity for me.   Home


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One Response to “Pictures of tree failures – not”

  1. Ali Says:

    Thankyou again for your informative blog. If only we had a visionary leader like Mayor Purdue!

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