Well that was fun – the post-charette presentation


There were some good omens on the way to the presentation last night that was given by council officers to elected councillors about the state and fate of the 80-year-old Hill’s figs in our most beautiful street: figs that manage to stand in spite of former general managers and arborists earthquakes, Pasha Bulker storms, allegedly having no roots, having been turned into stumps repeatedly in the 40s-70s, having what was last night described as canopy problems  (that could be news to Mr Marsden who wrote the report about them that crystallised the trees’ planned destruction in the eyes of council officers) and having been planted in dreadful soil – ‘they were just planted’ is the quote, I think.

The good omens were that I met a Fellow Traveller on the way and she gave me a lift and when we arrived lovely Fig Jam were waving signs out the front of the Town Hall at which cars were honking support.

There was a healthy number of onlookers in the gallery and the sound system was fantastic: a microphone handed around beats the PA system in the usual room that council use – which makes you want to be tested for hearing aids on the next business day.

A council officer presented ten options to councillors with costings and implications.None of these options were canvassed at the charette: in retrospect it’s so clever that almost the entire community discussion was on Civic Park because like good little people we did as we were told and followed the consultants’ lead – who were nowhere in sight, I might add.

The more satisfactory an option would have been to the treehuggers in the audience, the more millions it cost. Nowhere were the social, amenity or environmental benefits of keeping the trees mentioned until councillors asked about it at the end. A huge busy sheet summarising all the options was made up for councillors with all the options compared.

I was baffled and exhausted and thinking it’s all too hard at the end of the presentation so that was very successful: mission accomplished.

A few things stood out for me: the gallery has lost what will equate to $18000 a year because the street lacks parking and looks so uninviting. A councillor asked how far people have to walk now to reach the gallery (since you can’t park under the trees as a tree could move 2cm and scare it) and the answer was something like 70-100 metres. Tell that to people who visit the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, even the Art Gallery of NSW. They would kill to be able to park so close. Where are the marketing people on the council who can make it look inviting?

It’s ironic that the powers that be allowed the NSW Governor’s car to park under the trees for two hours recently.

Council re-calculated their risk management strategy in light of the fact that people are allegedly ignoring the scary signs that warn of tree risk. (Funny how people feel safe there.) They came up with a risk of 1 in 400 (which, when asked to clarify it, is more likely to be an acceptable risk of 1 in 10000, and one other measure was 1 in 20. Yeah, right. (What a joke QTRA is: if you have the energy to read 4 pages about it here is an online forum about QTRA and its scientific basis – which is non-existent. You click the next question at the bottom of the page to go onto the answer.).

So bad luck folks, you can no longer walk on one side of the street: that will make moving the war memorial easier too.

There was lots of mention of’ whole of life tree management’ which turns out to mean that iconic (hate that word) trees are worth as much or as little  council effort as a scrawny struggling tree in a back street. No way of looking after the trees to preserve them was consistent with this ridiculous ‘philosophy’. (They called it that.)

One councillor asked whether council’s efforts were out of proportion to the risk, in light of the fact that no tree has fallen down, no branch has fallen off and the only trees that have failed were chopped down because they are alleged to have moved 2cm away from the gutter. You can predict the answer.

There were some hints at species selection. Replacing the trees with Hill’s figs got a look-in, the humble tuckeroo, pillar-shaped trees without names and anonymous deciduous trees were all drawn in profile. Chopping the present trees to 15% of their current height; building small or large tree vaults for the next lot of trees (nothing like bonsai-ing a street tree to make some people happy). the benefits of smaller trees included interpreting the front of the art gallery… They touched on removing the bitumen and pavement and keeping the trees. That was probably one of the better option – with so many buts it would have gone out of people’s heads.

 The current trees, they kept saying, are only going to last 5-15 years – for which there is no scientific basis, either,  but if you keep saying it someone will believe you. One councillor questioned why the current trees, planted in crappy soil and managed according to the fashion of the day, have lasted longer than council officers predict the replacement trees will last.

Council have done a study about the effects on endangered wildlife – where is that. They are going to provide the QTRA reports to councillors, having been asked to do so. There was not one mention of the root mapping report. They asked an engineer about an arbour under the tree. Why would you not ask an architect as well?

Anyway, I’m obviously frothing at the mouth so I’ll go and get the children ready for school and take myself off to work. More later. Home


6 Responses to “Well that was fun – the post-charette presentation”

  1. Ali Says:

    So if we keep saying something long enough someone will believe. Id therefore like to repeat this “One councillor questioned why the current trees, planted in crappy soil and managed according to the fashion of the day, have lasted longer than council officers predict the replacement trees will last.”?!
    This Council really now disgust me, the Trees are absolutely majestic. I was at the recent opening of the Curious Colony art exhibition & the fact that he NSW Govenors vehicle was parked for hours out under the trees during what had been a wet day, did not escape observers. This all under the watchful eye of civic leaders including Mayor Tate. & I can assure you that the majority of the Art going public totally suport the retention of these Trees. They are a valuable community & socaial asset. More bloody risk walking down Hunter st & being hit by a falling brick!

  2. Sean Freeman Says:

    Hi Caity,
    I have said this before but will reitterate it, the problem is not the particular system or methodology being applied to the assessment of risk of significant harm represented by the Fig trees but rather the way an increasingly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to encounter as part of our normal lives feeds through the subjective judgement of the assessor.

    I can feel your anger at the way in which you feel the process (the charette) is paying lipservice (if that) to the views of a significant number of residents in opposition to the removal of the Figs.

    As a professional consulting arborist I carry out tree risk assessments and I apply the QTRA methodology, I do not think the flaws evident in the reporting available on the Newcastle Council website expose problems specific to QTRA, it remains in my opinion a robust, repeatable auditable method…that like all forms of risk assessment (includes those dealing with non tree matters) relies very heavily on the individual applying the method.

    What is important for me (and this has been stated by yourself and by others commenting on this and earlier posts) is to repeat again and again just why it is we have large trees, just what it is that they provide. Just how important all these services are not only to the way many of us want to live but also critical to sustaining the kinds of environments we require to be healthy physically and mentally.

    When it comes to trying to balance benefits against costs it is never black and white, there is subjectivity envolved…just as there is in every kind of evaluation that is carried out for any aspect of our lives.

    • John Says:

      Sean, I have to disagree with you on the robust state of QTRA.

      Its not. It has slightly less subjectivity than other hazard evaluation or risk assessment methods but as someone who was a licenced QTRA assessor i no longer believe in its value. It simply tries to quantify the risk. The British system and figures used have not been adapted to Australian statistics. Even when a licenced operator gets on their forum, there is open debate from the other arborists about much of gthe process. The developers of the system constantly ‘modify’ the process or so they claim, so thats why they have never developed a software system for it even though they always stated they would. After attending 2 very expensive days of training in Sydney some years ago, with nifty PowerrPoints, I was suddenly competent enough to go out and use this system. 2 days training to now use a system that has no local support, is subjective and even the presenters and developers keep changing around.

      The only thing that is repeatable is the statistic that a 1:10, 000 probability is an acceptable level of risk for a medical procedure in Britain.

      I have never seen any scientific support for QTRA from any major tree research organisation or university. I have never seen an insurance company jump at the system, or an Australian Court accept it.

  3. Ali Says:

    Article & POLL today in Newcastle Herald.

  4. Caity Raschke Says:

    Thanks Ali and Sean; your interest is really appreciated. Re QTRA, if the method relies so heavily on the individual applying it how can it be robust, repeatable or auditable? Not everyone has your interest in doing the right thing. Caity

  5. Sean Freeman Says:

    “Re QTRA, if the method relies so heavily on the individual applying it how can it be robust, repeatable or auditable?”

    Hi Caity,

    Absolutely every method of risk assessment whether it is dealing with the production of electricity in a thermonuclear power station, or an office workplace is influenced by the subjectivity of the assessor…QTRA is no different.

    To hopefully help explain some definitions from another Arborist who has spent a great deal of time examining Tree Risk Assessment methods as part of his thesis;

    Robustness: Gives reliable answers that are not too sensitive (vary widely) to the uncertainty (assumptions) in the available information.

    Repeatable: Results must be able to be repeated by others in the same circumstances.

    Auditable: The steps taken and values applied through the methodology are clear, explained and can be evaluated.

    As I wrote before….for me, in the work I do QTRA meets those criteria, how others apply the method is open to examination, especially when their reporting is available on the NCC website.

    To quote the thesis writer again…
    ‘Tree risk assessments are fundamentally a record of an assessor’s opinion (hopefully expert opinion) and that is all you can ask in areas where a massive amount of uncertainty exists, otherwise we wouldn’t need the experts.’

    If an assessor already has a very strong bias then that will be reflected in their assessment irrespective of the tools they use.

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