The National Trust’s view – from Keith Parsons

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The National Trust of Australia has a strong and long interest in the Laman Street avenue of Hill’s fig trees. We were the first conservation body to publicly recognise their significance in 1981, when we added them as a heritage item to the National Trust Register. Why, almost 30 years later are they still not listed in the heritage schedule of Council’s Newcastle Environmental Plan?

The process of public consultation, with the 2 charettes to which selected community members were invited, has been good, but they would be more aptly described as charades or a sham, if the plan put to Council last Tuesday is not subject to a period of public exhibition, so that everyone has the right to comment. It would constitute in our view, an abuse of due process.

The proposal to replace the trees with a single line of figs will probably create a canopy effect, but not the iconic, cathedral roof effect (already sadly and permanently lost in Tyrell Street) which the community wants retained and which is heritage significant. This can only be achieved with a row on both sides of the street. The single line proposal contravenes Council’s Heritage Policy, seemingly to achieve short-term and short-sighted savings.

We suggest Council considers Sydney City Council’s strategy to replace their much-loved central avenue of Hill’s Figs in Hyde Park using a sensitive, staggered process over about 4 years, rather than in one fell swoop.  Council has received professional advice that the Laman St trees, with varying projected life-spans, need not be replaced at the same time and certainly not immediately.

The Trust requests (and we believe the community supports) a guarantee that there will not be an early morning demolition raid. We call on genuinely heritage –supportive councillors to propose a rescission motion to allow for a period of public comment.

Some of us with long memories still remember the dawn raid on the Moreton Bay fig trees in Birdwood Park in 1973, with protesters chaining themselves to trees in front of bulldozers.

Keith Parsons.

Chair, Hunter Regional Committee

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