Thanks to Mark Hartley – reviewing old evidence 21.12.2011


Ravenshaw Street - there were three mature figs here

I’m grateful to Mark Hartley, the arborist whose assistance in 2o10 was crucial in giving the Laman Street trees more time.

The question of whether trees were ‘windthrown’, ‘windrocked’, tree ‘failures’, ’tilted out of the ground’ etc has been one of the saddest aspects of the Laman Street saga.

Mr Marsden from The Sugar Factory has done at least four assessments for council of some or all of the trees in Laman Street. Comparing his 2007 report Marsden_report_2-1 and 2009 Marsden report reports has now been done to try to determine the effect of the Pasha Bulker storm on this avenue of trees.

Thanks to Mr Hartley for what follows:

‘Councillor Cook wrote within the first week of council receiving my initial report saying that regardless of its accuracy it “will not alter council’s resolve to move towards the bigger picture”. So even  if it can be shown that the trees have an acceptable level of risk, there is a bigger picture. Unfortunately we are not privy to what the bigger picture is or why that should result in the trees being removed regardless of any arboricultural finding… In order to assist I have examined a few items where I take issue with council’s approach.

‘Mr Marsden states on page 20 of his 2007 report “4797 appears stable”. Again in section 6.2 he states “Like Tree #4796, the gap that opened up along the kerb was not accompanied by any signs of lifting at the buttresses on the tensile side, or any signs of subsidence or fracturing on the compression side. Again, it is probable that the gap was caused by the flexing of roots while under a tensile load, displacing the kerb. A conclusion that the tree was destabilised by the storm cannot be supported.” Finally in the conclusion of the same report states that “Tree #4797 was also not conclusively found to have been destabilised”, yet page 72 of the Newcastle Tree Failure Case History (the Case History – see link at the end) states that it was “removed due to root plate failure”. Which one is wrong? … Is council altering or ignoring his evidence?

‘Mr Marsden tells us that he is reliant on council in forming the view that the trees were wind-thrown. Council argues that one of the two that failed is tree 4796 but Mr Marsden makes clear that this is incorrect. Nonetheless, we are left asking which of the other two trees that council removed is meant to be the other tree that was supposed to have been wind thrown in the storm. According to Mr Marsden, “It was noted that two other Hill’s Figs outside the Gallery on the southern side of the street had suffered partial windthrow [sic] during the storm of 8 June 2007 and had been removed or drastically reduced in preparation for removal by the time of inspection.So according to Mr Marsden the two trees that failed were trees 4802 and the tree two trees west of  4802 (presumably  4804).

‘The Case History suggests that the other tree that failed was tree 4802 because it states that the this tree was “root heaved”. However, in the images provided (pages 61 – 68 of the Case History) there is no evidence of lifting or even any movement of the root plate of tree 4802. Page 63 shows the southern side of the tree where every other tree showed some kind of separation between the tree and the adjacent hard surface. Not a single photograph supports the assertion that this tree has moved and council went to such great lengths to provide evident of root flexing and the like on trees that did not have conclusive failure. Here we have a tree that was cut down because it has supposedly shifted in the ground and (by Mr Marsden’s criterion) either lifted and continued to lift or has developed other indicators other than “root flexing”. The evidence is not just missing, photographs appear to support the exact opposite.

‘More alarmingly, the photographs of  tree 4804 shown on pages 69 -71 proves conclusively that this tree likewise had not failed. Fortunately, just as in the case of tree 4802,  the pictures are clear, with no gaps between the tree and the adjacent hard surfaces. This tree has not failed. Rather, what we see is damage to adjacent structures due to flexing of the roots under load. In fact page 69 contains a clear description “Fracturing of concrete kerb and channel thought to be caused by tensile root flex”.  So this wasn’t root plate failure but flexing just as Mr Marsden discusses in relation to trees 4796 and 4797 except that, in the case of this tree, no gap had opened up between the tree and the adjacent hard surfaces.

‘Importantly, no photograph of trees 4802 or 4804 shows roots that have moved nor does photographic evidence show roots that have lifted and they certainly do not show that the root plates were “tilted out of the ground” as Mr Marsden stated council told him. Did he misunderstand what he was told, or was he misinformed?

‘You may be inclined to think that this is not a big issue. In fact it is an issue of immense proportion. Firstly, councillors believe that 2 of the 17 trees had in fact failed completely or partially. Councillor Cook in a document appropriately titled Litany of Lies wrote “Failure of roots lifting out of the ground  is classified as failure. Four trees in Laman Street failed in 2007”. However, relying on Mr Marsden, the evidence is that at the most one tree “failed” (tree 4818 – see below) and that is only if we accept that council did not make mistakes with its measurements or other details, like it has in the Case History.

‘Council’s first QTRA assessment conducted by Treelogic in 2009, when discussing the 17 trees that were outside the art gallery and library, states “Two mature Ficus microcarpa var. hillii (Hill’s Figs) within the group failed in June 2007.  The tree failures were caused by root plate failure and probably exacerbated by unusual weather conditions.” As is now evident that is not correct for two reasons. Firstly there were 17 trees and not 15  and secondly because there were no tree failures amongst the 17 trees as is now apparent from evidence contained in  the Case History. Treelogic goes on to say “If we assume that each of the subject trees has a similar probability of failure because of size, condition, age and growing environment, we can calculate the probability of failure for the 2007 calendar year (the year the two failures occurred) as 2/15 or 1/7.5” but he is  oblivious to the fact that the evidence showed that no trees had failed. Likewise Mr Swain rom Arboreport states “Notwithstanding casebook history of failures of similar trees in the area, and the knowledge we have of the remaining root plates these trees have a reasonable probability of failure however it is in my opinion less than those previously failed.” As we have seen, the Case History on these 17 trees is incorrect. Unfortunately Arboreport seems to have accepted the council’s flawed advice.

‘Council must have known for more than 12 months that there were not two trees in the 17 that failed from a risk perspective and that this error has resulted in unreliable risk calculations. As a result council has stopped relying on the Risk of Harm provided by their experts. In addition, council is aware that the QTRA manual was not adhered to by its consultants. To the best of my knowledge council has continued to spend more than $1,400,000  over that time and have not as yet had a corrected QTRA report prepared and presented to the councillors or the public. Instead it has continued to rely on and to promulgate incorrect details relating to tree failures in its Case History.

‘Mr Marsden has taken issue with the statement by various arborists discussing the trees that are outside the gallery when they have said that “none of the Laman street trees have failed”. I do not believe that any of the arborists have meant to pass an opinion on trees other than those 17 trees at the eastern end of Laman Street. The tree (#4818) that was removed outside number 41 Laman Street may have shifted if we are to accept council ‘s assessment on this matter. It is clear that Mr Marsden is, to a greater or lesser degree, reliant on the information from the council which, as we can see from the above, may not be reliable. Regardless, this alleged failure is not relevant to the issue at hand and therefore can be ignored from the discussion of the two alleged failures that are said to have occurred at the eastern end of Laman Street.’

Mark Hartley





2 Responses to “Thanks to Mark Hartley – reviewing old evidence 21.12.2011”

  1. Terry McCauley Says:

    Thank you Mark for providing a very detailed capture of the circumstances surrounding the issue at hand in Laman Street regarding the fig trees.

    My mind boggles! How can Councillors act with integrity and persue the current course of action in this grave matter when counter information like this exists and they are aware of it.

  2. andy tiedeman Says:

    Excellent review! Thanks for all your trouble in trying to save our magnificent figs,and making it even clearer that SOME council members were planning to remove them despite any evidence one way or the other.

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