Thanks to Ed Glatfelter-Jones 17.12.2011

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This is an email sent by Laman Street campaigner Ed Glatfelter-Jones to decision makers.

Lord Mayor Tate, Councillors, Mr Pearce, Ministers and Others,

As events appear to be moving quickly on Laman Street, I have opted to respond and comment on several items in this one message sent to multiple recipients.  I have been informed by Cr Bob Cook that due to the length of my treatises, as he calls them,  most in office will not bother to read them.  I hope that is not the case.


But if you have read prior communications I have sent relating to the Laman Street dispute, there are three main themes in those letters:


1.    The questionable wisdom of the decision made to remove valuable trees based on information with well-demonstrated flaws.


2.    The refusal of Council to truly listen to independent expert advice which refutes the claimed danger of the Laman Street figs.


3.    The ever growing rift, the distrust by the Community and the risk of civil unrest or injury caused when a Council refuses to act in a truly transparent fashion. This is an issue of such volatility and passion that to sacrifice an extremely beautiful asset and a valuable wildlife habitat rather than admit to an error and engage in a remedy appears cavalier.


A brief review of events shows that Council voted in December 2010 to retain and manage the Laman Street Trees.  This decision was made, to the delight of the Community, with full knowledge and abeyance of several existing reports which demonstrated there were problems with the stability of these trees. These reports held by Council were produced on base information provided by staff that trees had fallen or failed on Laman Street during the Pasha Bulker storm of June 2007. (The term “wind-thrown” meaning their trunks were tilted so that roots were left above ground had been provided) . Early reports by Council’s contracted arborist were based on this incorrect and highly disputed information which has now been carried forward through subsequent reports.  The trees which were allegedly wind-thrown were quickly removed so today a physical inspection is not possible and photographic evidence does not show wind-throw.  It has since been demonstrated, and apparently agreed among experts, that at worst trees were wind-rocked, not wind-thrown, on Laman Street during this cyclonic event.  Trees which have been wind-rocked do not pose a risk of imminent catastrophic failure and may be monitored for health.  In particular, Hills Figs are well suited for survival of extreme wind events due to the elastic qualities inherent in their structure and their ability to re-establish root support as needed.


From the meeting minutes, three key points of the Council’s 2010 decision were:


1.    Council retains the existing 14 Fig Trees in Laman Street, Cooks Hill.


2.    Council implements alternative risk mitigation, monitoring and tree management strategies.


3.    Council notes that the ongoing management and assessment of the Laman Street trees needs to be conducted from a tree preservation and health and safety perspective and
by a qualified organisation with a proven tree preservation standpoint.  [Emphasis added]

However, this Council decision was not brought to fruition.  Community members of a working party which was established to enact Council’s decision to retain the Laman Street figs have complained that their efforts were blocked by Councillors and staff who were also on the working party and who were promoting removal of trees and by their votes, blocking attempts at preservation. This ultimately led to then interim General Manager for Council, Rob Noble, to recommend that Councillors and staff should not be voting in these types of working parties.


But this is now a moot point as the working party was not permitted to fulfil its task.  In July 2011, two weeks after Councillor Bob Cook, representing the City of Newcastle, produced a video with reference to twenty reports that he presented to demonstrate removal as the only option,  a motion was brought to Council to remove and replace:


“Council resolve to remove and replace, with regards to the Street Tree Masterplan, the 14 Fig Trees as soon as practical under section 88 of the
Roads Act 1993 (NSW) because Council is of the opinion that the Fig Trees are likely to cause danger to traffic, property and persons in the use of Laman Street and are a traffic hazard in severe weather events.”

This is the motion which passed and is the current motion in play today.  It should be noted that when the motion to retain the figs was in play, Council took several months to establish the working party and begin enacting that motion.  When the motion to remove was scheduled for hearing, tree removal equipment was already on Laman Street, ahead of the vote.  This blatant inequity of intent is only one of the many reasons that the Community now distrusts local government.


It should also be noted that the removal vote is based on a traffic hazard and has utilised the Roads Act, Section 88. This act allows Council to bypass normal planning scrutiny and has been described as a loophole, the extent of which will generate debate in State Government to close this loophole.


In reviewing Cr Cook’s video, I commented to Council that, as an example, a wind study did not address tree risk, nor did a study for steel cabling supports, and thus should not be considered as part of the evidence for removal.  For this I have been called a liar by directly quoting Cr Cook and directly referencing actual report text.  Regardless of a unfounded insult, of the twenty reports discussed in the video, and the twenty reports listed on Council’s website under Laman Street Key Documents, the bulk of the reports do not address safety.  In that sense, Council is relying on the opinions of the following experts in relation to safety and risk:


1.    Dean Simonsen

2.    Adrian Swain

3.    Dennis Marsden

4.    GBG radar

5.    IVM  Peer review


Council has refused the Premier’s offer to provide an assessment, they have refused offers by private industry to provide and fund an assessment, they have refused the offer of their own insurer to fund testing and they have, despite claims to the contrary, not accepted the expert opinion of the following who have presented Council with information as to the flaws found in the decision to remove trees or in the interpretation of evidence on hand:


1.    Sean Freeman

2.    Ian McKenzie

3.    Craig Hallam

4.    Ken James

5.    Mark Hartley

6.    Jeremy Barrell

7.    David Cashman

8.    Mark Stewart

9.    Bill Jordan

10.  Jan Allen

When Council’s insurer offered to fund testing (refused by Council) and offered to continue insurance if provided an expert opinion as to the viability of the trees, it appears that that opinion could have been readily provided in lieu of the alternative chosen to erect ugly barricades on the street and “evacuate” buildings nearby in moderate winds. I understand that some of the information provided by the Save Our Figs organisation as to tree viability was forwarded to the insurer with the caveat that Council does not accept that information, no doubt removing any credibility that information may have had on its own merit.

So as Council is acting to remove trees under the appearance of risk, that risk is in very serious contention.  As Council has resolved to “remove and replace as soon as practical”, only the remove part has been addressed.  It has not been presented as to how or if Council will fund “replace” and it as been revealed that in reality replace will not occur, but redevelop may, if ever funded, into a proposed concrete plaza where once a magnificent green living cathedral arch stood.  Council’s motion in play is in that sense only able to be partially implemented, again a divisive move that can only further alienate the Community.


Currently Council is at a crossroads – to proceed with removal and further alienate a Community which no longer can trust their Government, or to stave off this disaster by admitting there are other very viable options, by engaging the Community with honest dialogue rather than by intimidation (by some) and sleight of hand and by enacting a rescission motion in order to study this matter properly.


I truly hope you will consider the second option, a Government body operating only by the thinnest edge, albeit legally, cannot be representing the Community.

 

Sincerely,

 

Ed Glatfelter-Jones,
Architect

Santa Cruz

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5 Responses to “Thanks to Ed Glatfelter-Jones 17.12.2011”

  1. Joanne Zerafa Says:

    I shake Ed’s hand solidly for persevering with the intricacies of this issue and for remaining on task and following the events to the ‘T’.
    The sooner everybody realises the NCC wanted the trees to appear unsafe for a reason, the sooner we can get on with being proud to be a community who recognises the endless benefits these urban trees provide for us.

  2. Hugh Says:

    Dear Ed-Gladfelter Jones.

    Thank you so much for your very articulate and well put together letter.

    While I am afraid I feel that the council will not bend on this one, I hope that the community realises the way this issue has been dealt with, and in turn punishes those in the council who think their naff westfield-like plans for Newcastle are more important than what the community wants.

    Many thanks,

    Hugh

  3. my town Says:

    Thank you Ed, what a fabulous letter. So clearly expressed and so accurately stated. I look forward to reading any replies you may get from decision makers.

  4. Shepsta Says:

    Well said Ed.
    I only wish the the people who have been fed and believe the lies that council have told them would open their eyes up and look at the real reasons council want these trees gone. Why is Bob Cook so adamant about getting rid of these trees? Did he have a bad experience with a tree when he was a child. Whatever happens with the trees, good or bad, REMEMBER THE SEVEN COUNCILLORS AND DO NOT LET THEM GET BACK IN NEXT ELECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Terry McCauley Says:

    What a well documented, factual and articulated trail of the real issue of the Laman Street Fig trees mis-management Ed, excellent.

    I hope that the Councillors opposed to the retention of the fig trees read your document and open their eyes to the lack of credible science on this issue and develop a social conscience over the Christmas break returning to their role of Councillor in 2012 with renewed vigour and an urgency to make right this injustice for the community they represent.

    Thank you,

    Terry

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