What’s the story behind Save Our Figs?

Laman Street is in inner-city Newcastle, NSW  and looks down on Civic Park and our Town Hall. It is where the Art Gallery and War Memorial Cultural Centre are found.

Newcastle Regional Art Gallery

An avenue of Hill’s figs, Ficus macrocarpa microcarpa var. Hillii,  lines the street. Most of them may have been planted in the thirties, but this isn’t certain.

Over the last few years a number of large trees have ‘failed’ throughout inner-city Newcastle and Council’s concern is public liability. Sadly, Council is only considering ripping out the trees, rather than looking at the possibility of other methods of risk mitigation and have not involved the community in this process.

Emotions always run high when trees are removed or pruned in an apparently destructive manner, yet the community uproar about Laman Street seems to have taken Council by surprise.

From the Greens' petition to Council

In 2005 a report was produced by Council-appointed  consultants on renovating Civic Park and this involved removing the figs,closing Laman Street to traffic and building grassy, tiered platforms in front of the buildings descending to the park. (Greg Ray, The Herald, Dec 19,2009)

Civic Park on Anzac Day

In 2007 a Sydney-based company was awarded a $150 000 contract to start the design process for a multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Art Gallery. (ABC radio July 13, 2005.) [3.9.2011: the link for this is here]

The vision for the gallery was that it would include increased exhibition space, a cafe and a theatre.The projected cost was to have been $25 million and the plan was abandoned according to Council because of  changes in the economic climate. One description of the proposed gallery suggested that the figs near the Gallery would be in the way, and the figs are said to have failed to appear on the plans for the Gallery.

In the 2009 report prepared by consultant arborist, Mr Dennis Marsden,that assessed the risk of the trees, Mr Marsden dismissed closing the street to traffic as causing too much disruption for businesses on the south side of Laman Street. As there are none, one can only assume he was alluding to the businesses that had been planned for the Gallery.

Artist's impression of the proposed Regional art Gallery

In February 2009 Newcastle City Council were briefed by the Council’s chief arborist , Mr Philip Hewett, on the alleged risk that the trees in Laman Street pose and discussed whether removing all of the trees was the best approach. Somehow, this failed to cause an outcry from the community.

This was not the case in November when the figs were discussed again by Council. Council voted in favour of removing and replacing the trees. Community consultation was mentioned, but Council’s vote implied destruction of the trees regardless of the community input.You can read the minutes of this meeting and see how councillors voted at

http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/89475/ECAG_Minutes.pdf

Councillor Nuatali Nelmes put forward a rescission motion, seconded by Councillors Claydon, Osborne and Crakanthorpe and on December 15th the decision was reversed in a vote that was 8-5.

For the motion: Connell, Buman, Claydon, Crakanthorpe, Jackson, King, Nelmes, Osborne.

Against the motion: The Lord Mayor, Councillors, Cook, Boyd, Luke, Sharpe.

And I repeat (commit this to memory):

Against the motion: The Lord Mayor, Councillors, Cook, Boyd, Luke, Sharpe.

You can read the minutes of this Council meeting at http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/93741/Draft_Minutes_-_Ordinary_Council_Meeting_15.12.09.pdf

The issue is to be re-examined on May 1st, after community consultation. It’s interesting to read the Council’s web page on this issue at http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/news__and__events/media_releases/media_releases/tree_management_is_a_balancing_act

‘Do we want Laman Street to remain a street? Do we want to extend the park to incorporate the existing road?Should we be extending the art gallery or library into this space? ‘

‘We need to follow the advice of experts [sic] in this field.’

Council’s Infrastructure Services Manager John Johnston

There are some fun times ahead.

We all need to be part of the community consultation and design process so let others know as soon as you find out any news and let council know your views.

1st Dec 2011: that’s all old history. A Council page on decisions in relation to Laman Street can be read here

http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/environment/tree_management/laman_street_figs/council_decisions

Themes running through anything you read about Laman Street involve ‘risk’, risk-averse arborists and council managers, ‘eccentric’ root plates and the failure of many people to understand that this doesn’t equate with tree instability, infrastructure damage – although NOBODY ever claims this has anything to do with wanting to remove the trees, utilities under the street – but why we don’t just bore undr the street for electrictiy cables and resleeve water pipes is beyond me, ticking boxes required for a DA all along the way – without ever calling it a DA – etc etc.

Watch this space. Home

4 Responses to “What’s the story behind Save Our Figs?”

  1. Jacqueline Yetzotis Says:

    I am shocked that Newcastle Council would even consider removing these trees which bring great beauty to the area. These trees & the beaches are what outsiders like myself remember about Newcastle. Another major issue is global warming. These trees would sequester & store an enormous amount of CO2. To chop them down in these times is simply irresponsible. To call them the ‘lungs of the city’ would not be an understatement. Council can selective prune any dangerous branches & fence around trees which they are unsure about. To remove the trees to create room for buildings is also irresponsible. The community relies on green spaces more & more. These trees are actually a great financial asset to the people of Newcastle & should be preserved. My respect to you for deciding to do what you can to save them. I hope the community gets behind you & the Council decides to place their attention elsewhere. Great web-site too.

  2. chatty Says:

    Here we are in September 2010 and the issue is now in the Land and Environment Court, our precious figs are still standing, rather flash at times in all their decorations and the challenge to encourage Council, Councillors and the Lord Mayor to acknowledge the ground swell of public outcry about the enormous value and potential of these trees in our Civic Centre is still alive and well, and hot topic of conversation with Novocastrians.

    Is the Art Gallery dream able to incorporate our 80 year old fig cathedral?

    Can our Civic leaders and those who pos to benefit from this development see their way to designing a modern, functional building lapped and bordered by giant, old, well established, well behaved, healthy trees. Can modern ideas marry with heritage and respect for the history of our town and it’s people?

    I’ll ask the Mayor tomorrow!!

  3. Barny Says:

    I am shocked that Newcastle Council would even consider removing these trees which bring great beauty to the area. These trees & the beaches are what outsiders like myself remember about Newcastle. Another major issue is global warming. These trees would sequester & store an enormous amount of CO2. To chop them down in these times is simply irresponsible. To call them the ‘lungs of the city’ would not be an understatement. Council can selective prune any dangerous branches & fence around trees which they are unsure about. To remove the trees to create room for buildings is also irresponsible. The community relies on green spaces more & more. These trees are actually a great financial asset to the people of Newcastle & should be preserved. My respect to you for deciding to do what you can to save them. I hope the community gets behind you & the Council decides to place their attention elsewhere. Great web-site too.
    +1

  4. glen andrews Says:

    Newcastle council should be ashamed at their actions these figs are of great benifit to everyone who appreciates beauty . it has taken 80 years of living to become majestic and grand as they are.
    What do the small group of humans who believe they can offer more for the people of Newcastle than their inflated egos .. It would be fair logic justice to listen to the wider voice of ordinary newcastle residents who get immense pleasure from these unique trees.
    Is it not obvious the decision is tyranny if it takes so many riot police to stop the wishes of the people .
    This council should have listened to the public its far from over ..
    Wait till all the wonderful figs are gone , and the new streetscape designs thought up by people who have egos even bigger than the figs , try and win awards for some building that will be an eyesore within a year .
    This council is disgraceful and should be sacked … its just unbelievable they just ignored the people who put them there …
    Glen Andrews .

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