Monday, January 23, 2012

Ministerial Enquiry Called Over Fig Fiasco

The Premier of NSW the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP
Tim Owen MP Hon Member for Newcastle
Mr Andrew Cornwell, MP

Dear Mr Premier, Tim, and Andrew,

Please find the letter to the General Manager as images below. Sent to the Lord Mayor and Councillors. You will see I have also attached the 1968 letter as evidence of our longstanding efforts.
This letter follows on from matters placed before the Premier and Directorate of Local Government. RE Previous letter copy below.

Cheers and hope you all are well
Yours sincerely
 Doug Lithgow


Mr Ross Woodward Chief Executive
Local Government Division, NSW Premier’s Department
50 Keefe Ave
Locked Bag 3015
NOWRA NSW 2541      

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Dear Mr Woodward

Newcastle’s Civic Precinct Planning untruthfulness & Council’s Fig fiasco

This is a very serious matter requiring your attention. A bizarre situation has developed in Newcastle due to Newcastle Council’s public half-truths about the Newcastle Civic Precinct future development. This situation has been exacerbated by Council’s misinformation, inappropriate procedure and Councillor Intransigence. A breakdown of public confidence in the elected Council has occurred and requires appropriate investigation by the NSW Division of Local Government and possible intervention to correct the situation.

Newcastle citizens wonder why Newcastle Council has persisted in bullying their way into the Laman Street Fig fiasco. Council’s behaviour has caused heartache and inconvenience to the lives of those who care about the city and its amenity. There is also the unreasonable cost, inconvenience and waste that Councillors have unreasonably foisted on to the city ratepayers. As you know the Parks and Playgrounds Movement has given more than fifty years of service in the public interest to the Hunter Region, especially to the City of Newcastle and we are distressed by this bizarre situation that has been allowed to persist.

This unsatisfactory situation cannot be resolved if this important cultural precinct is to be stripped of its attractive mature trees without the a proper review of the exaggerated risk assessment that certain Councillors rely on to form an opinion that the trees need to be felled for the purpose of  removing a traffic hazard.

General Background

By apparently not wanting to amend the official Civic Precinct Plan of Management (POM) in a transparent way and by their clandestine development proposal the Newcastle City Councillors have created a fig fiasco. All Public Parks are required to have Plans of Management and Council is required to implement them. The 1993 Local Government Act introduced Plans of Management in an effort to provide better management of parks and public lands in NSW and to allow the community to have a say. In the year 2000 Council adopted an official Civic Precinct plan which included Council owned land at Civic Park, Laman Street, Christie Place and Church Walk Park.  Council may amend the plan but certain rules are expected to be followed for public exhibition, public submissions and a public hearing.

Council’s proposals that required the removal of 14 fig tress from Laman Street should have triggered the Plan of Management provisions of the Local Government Act and been lawfully exhibited to the citizens of Newcastle for their consideration.

The situation as it developed.

The exhibition of Council’s plans was not going to happen in the Civic Precinct because Council, as we now know, was secretly developing proposals for an under Laman Street building and major engineering works to level and extend Laman Street into Civic Park to create a wide mezzanine plaza that was to be called ‘Anzac Centennial Place’. The proposal was predicated on the removal of 14 trees in Laman Street and the obliteration of the existing Memorial Grove and changes to Civic Park Fountain. The proposal should have been exhibited as an amendment to the Civic Plan of Management but was not. Nor was it honestly introduced to Council’s two day workshop in May last year that was supposed to be considering the future of the Civic Precinct. The time and energy of the seventy participants that had given up their weekend in good faith to consider the issues was misused and wasted. Unfortunately there are other recent examples of the disregard of transparency in parkland planning at Nobbys, Merewether and King Edward Headland Reserve with Newcastle City Council and it may have become a systemic problem.

The proposal for an Anzac Centennial Place in Laman Street was registered with the Commonwealth Anzac Centenary Commission on the 17th of September 2010 in the name of the City of Newcastle,  (Submission Number 290 Commonwealth  Anzac Centenary Commission  from Website

Name/Organisation: City of Newcastle
Submission Summary
: The creation of a new public space called Anzac Centennial Place at Laman Street, in the cultural and commemorative heart of Newcastle. The project consolidates and reinforces the commemorative efforts of a previous generation, thereby giving continuity to the community's acts of remembrance.
Date received:

Council did not resolve and Exhibit their proposals & we had to commence Legal action.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc. made an application to the Land and Environment Court in the public interest for an injunction to restrain the Council from their precipitous intention to remove the trees without first resolving and exhibiting their Plan of Management for the precinct.

We obtained the injunction but were unsuccessful on the wider issue because we were prevented from considering matters of merit. Furthermore Council did not disclose to the court evidence of their Centennial Place development proposal. Newcastle Council had not made this proposal public even though they had registered it with the Commonwealth Centenary Commission prior to the court hearing.

In that court case Council, in their Respondent’s Submissions lodged with the Court 5/11/2010 claimed that there was no broader activity proposed other than tree removal. (Paragraphs: 76, 77, 78, page15 see attached Respondent’s Submission L&E Court 05 Oct 2010).

They repeat this claim in the following paragraph (77) that no works beyond the removal of the trees has been sanctioned, or were presently proposed. They further claimed that to the extent that any works were envisaged to be undertaken beyond the removal of the trees, those works would be in consequence of the removal of the trees. 

Paragraph 78 goes on to maintain that it is the tree removal that has necessitated further works in the future.

The future works proposed but not made open and clear in public arena were for the building of an under-Laman Street Library building and the extension of Laman Street into Civic Park to create a wide plaza.  Normal Council transparency would require that such proposals affecting public land need to be exhibited to the public for consideration as provided for in the Local Government Act.

Far from being transparent, Council has insisted that these fourteen trees are a traffic hazard and must be removed as a matter of public safety.

The Council’s Exaggerated Risk Assessment requires independent review
Why are Councillors reluctant to review the risk analysis for the fig trees when they know their analysis has been fairly challenged as being exaggerated and unscientific? They have been offered help or funding for an independent assessment by the Insurance Coy, a citizen donor and by the Premier of NSW but certain Councillors have frustrated Council by resorting to technicalities of meeting procedure to evade this logical resolution. In this way they have caused a deep rift to develop between the community and council and caused much inconvenience and extraordinary costs by their intransigence.

The Newcastle’s fig fiasco is no doubt the result of a mixture of public misinformation, inappropriate procedure and Councillor Intransigence. We request that the Local Government division of the Premiers Department intervene as a matter of urgency to defuse the confrontation and institute a clear open process for the planning of the Newcastle Civic Precinct.

Yours sincerely
Doug Lithgow

President Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Copy to:
The Premier of NSW the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP
General Manager & Lord Mayor Newcastle City Council

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