Laman Street comes back to council again 15.8.2010

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Council will be discussing the Laman Street figs yet again this Tuesday, 6th (quel eejit) 17th August at 6pm. Advisers to elected councillors have very efficiently eliminated eight of the ten tree management options they came up with a couple of weeks ago and left us with two. Thankyou for the presentation that wasted all our time in early August and which made our eyes glaze over. 

 You can read the recommendations (8 pages and 33.33 KB)  here . They boil down to replace the trees with a single row of a North American deciduous tree, the liquidamber [spelled incorrectly through the entire post: apologies] or keep the current trees with a ‘risk management regime’ which presumably means keep the street looking as ugly as possible, make it as difficult as possible to enter the street, make it unpleasant for pedestrians and do some very ugly prunings at regular intervals etc. ‘Due to the public ignoring risk management measures in place’ – funny how Newcastle people just don’t believe the council spin on the dangers of the trees – they will close the street every night and probably put in the ugliest gates they can find. 

If you’re reading about this for the first time some background is available here ‘What’s the story behind Save our Figs?’ It gives you the details about how the councillors voted in December 2009. I abbreviated the ‘independent arborist’ report on the trees here.  There are some pictures of identical streets in Sydney here that are on their Significant tree register rather than in the council’s cross-hairs. And there’s a Herald poll and article here: if you work for council make sure you vote. Just kidding. And if you haven’t heard of QTRA, don’t let it faze you. It’s a dazzle-them-with-#$% tree risk assessment method that should be called QRAP and will, I hope, die a thousand deaths in the not-too-distant future. It’s unscientific and untested and extremely assessor-dependent. 

The charette, you will recall, spent 90% of the community’s time talking about Civic Park, which has no problems and would satisfy the community if nothing new ever happened to it. (It needs more trees, a kids play area – and it doesn’t have to be that darned plastic stuff – more seating and more picnic tables, but whatever.) 

It was the Lord Mayor’s idea to consider carving the fig trees into likenesses of garden gnomes to include Civic Park in the workshop instead of restricting the discussion to the beautiful row of Hill’s figs – which have withstood two amazing storms this year as well as the earthquake and the Pasha Bulker storm. Apparently thirty years in local government politics teaches you something about distracting fooling a lot of the people a lot of the time. Discussion on the trees was stifled, no poll was taken about what people want, and yet Item 96 (the document to be discussed Tuesday, says 

‘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 re-development 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 will be required in the future.’ 

*Not where I was sitting. 

  There are some cartoons pictures of the proposed changes here (62.1KB) and here (75.4KB). 

  Liquidambers are beautiful trees. Their attraction is their autumn colour change. While I can enjoy going to places where there are lots of deciduous exotics,  it seems a bizarre choice of replacement tree for one of our most beautiful streets and in the year of biodiversity (the current trees are a food source for birds and animals, many endangered or vulnerable, and many important pollinators). Council say this option will provide ‘a new chapter in the evolution of this Civic and Cultural space’ and will ‘celebrate the change of seasons’ and give us a better view. Not a view of beautiful figs, though.   

 The downsides of liquidambers: Wikipedia (and don’t give me that twaddle about Wikipedia being unreliable: if you see something that’s incorrect, edit it, or do what I did and donate some money to them so they can keep improving) says: 

‘American Sweetgum is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its intense fall colors, but it also has some drawbacks:
 

  •  The wood is brittle and the tree drops branches easily in storms.
  • The spiked “gumballs” can be unpleasant to walk on (in fact in California they are known as “ankle biters” or “ankle twisters”), and their profusion can leave a lawn lumpy, since the fruit do not decay well, unless removed.’

 

Aren’t we supposedly replacing trees because they’re (cue scary music)  ‘dangerous’? We may as well put in eucalypts if we want branches dropping. I talked to a man at a concert last night who has twenty of them and he confirmed they drop branches. I was happy to hear him say that at least cockatoos have fun in them.And how much increase will there be in stormwater in the winter when we have a deciduous tree? Did you know trees soak up the first third of stormwater? With this town’s history of flooding isn’t that an issue? 

  And if I read one more time that the bitumen is holding up the trees, I’ll spit – I’ve never met a non-council arborist who thought that was possible – or that the root plates are weakened – more spitting.  

400 people sent in online visions for the street and most people wanted to retain the street as it is or replace the existing trees with figs. 3000 people signed petitions in December. 2000 people have looked at the ground-penetrating radar report online (see links to right, on home page). This is the report that we were told at the charette showed not roots but reflections of minerals in the bitumen. In a  radial pattern. Yeah, right. 

Page 7 of item 96 says ‘The Hills [sic]  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.’ There is no evidence for this: the trees that have fallen have had roots cut through by council – these haven’t had that – and branches that have fallen in the past elsewhere have had included bark: the included bark in Laman Street is not judged to be a problem.  ` 

Sorry to froth at the mouth. Occupational hazard of the community activist. Hope to see you at the meeting. Home 

  

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