Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is responsible for Council expenditure?

The Letter below was published by the Newcastle Herald 9th December. It should be made clear to everyone that Local Government Councillors can delegate some functions to their administration but they cannot delegate responsibility and they are barred especially from delegating financial responsibility. They cannot escape their legal responsibility although many do try to hide their responsibility by loudly claiming it is someone else’s fault. See Section 377 of the Local Government Act for matters that Council cannot delegate. DL.

Doug Lithgow

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Letters Editor
The Herald
Bolton Street

Dear Sir

Who is responsible for Council expenditure?

Letters (Newcastle Herald 7/12 The other belligerents ) suggests that the community is responsible for expenditures of the Newcastle Council. This is wrong.

The Local Government Act 1993 makes it mandatory that only Councillors have the power to vote for expenditure of moneys or set Council Rates. It is only Councillors that can be responsible and must be held responsible.

For instance, certain councillors consistently vote that the trees in Laman Street be felled knowing full well that the risk analysis has been challenged as being exaggerated and should be reviewed. Furthermore councillors know that the cost of removing the trees is in excess of one million dollars plus the further costs of unpublished and un-costed proposals for refurbishing the street.

Some councillors have clearly not acted responsibly.

Doug Lithgow
See Section 377 of the Local Government Act for matters that Council cannot delegate.


Some background to the Laman Street Trees Issue.

These documents provide information to show how Newcastle got into the 'Fig Fiasco'.

The aim now should be to close Laman Street, have it Classified 'Community Land' and save the trees within a Civic Park Plan of Management. But by the article in the Newcastle Herald it appears that Labor has pulled out of the Laman Street Issue.

Dear Colleagues,

Some points from history of council strategy to destroy the old trees at Civic.

The removal of older trees from the City began with General Manager Janet Dore. It was her policy and she employed a specialist to carry it out.

His name was Phil Hewett (just retired and kept on as a consultant I believe). The only thing that put a brake on the destructive tendencies was the Community Land provisions of the Local Government Act especially the Civic PoM that included Laman Street (Council owned Land) Civic Park Christie place and Church Walk Park as a unit. (Adopted by Council April 2000)

Janet’s policy is set out in general terms in her article in the Herald 26th Jul 2002. (See below)

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement have been involved in promoting conservation and protection of parks and landscape going back to the 1930’s.

Parks and Playgrounds voiced our objection to the Civic Framework Exhibition that included the Laman Street Plaza plan and the Under Laman Street Library building proposals that immediately threatened destruction of the Laman Street Figs and initiated the current crisis. It is all in the Design Framework documents the Council exhibited at the start of the year.

Great efforts have been made but the Newcastle Council remains intransigent and new directions are needed.

The last Council had all the opportunities to set clear goals to guide the next Council. It had 4 Greens and a strong ALP group.

When Newcastle got a New Council and a new Gen Manager, most Councillors were new and had never been to a Council Meeting. The new General Manager had been planted in the job also with no experience in Local Government. Somewhere there is the backing of the ALP right wing in the last days of a corrupt Government. The right wing undermined and felled Bryce Gaudry and planted Jodie also with no experience.

With all new directors in the Council and the right wing hatchet men in control what can happen?

The Truth, Transparency and fiscal intelligence have been the first casualties in this bazaar political melee.

I look forward to a shake up and I hope SOF continues to claim the high Ground. Out of his will come a few decent Councillors?


If you want a stating point re: removal of old trees including the Laman St Figs see the article below which was published in the Herald. It involves the newly appointed Arborist Mr Hewett.

It is nicely written but cannot disguise the intent to get rid of the veteran trees. Janet wrote the article after we challenged the Council for cutting down the first Fig in Civic Park. The Fig tree root in the electric cable trench that features on Council’s web site is from that first tree felled on the corner of Auckland and King Street. No doubt Council could claim to be using the Roads Act. However the real reason for that removal was for a new widened cement foot path around Civic Park which was part of the 2000 POM).

Old trees pay for past malpractice - Janet Dore  Newcastle Herald  Published: 26-Jul-2002

Newcastle City Council now faces difficult decisions about the management of old trees in a changing urban environment

While the city plans for future urban forests, Janet Dore explains why old plantings and old practices continue to cause problems.

As a city that prides itself on policies based on sustainability, heritage and culture, the removal of Civic Park's ageing fig was a difficult and sad task.

Newcastle City Council planted 4500 trees last year.

We are committed to providing urban forests that beautify our city, promote sustainability and protect public spaces for future generations.

Those thousands of trees planted last year will one day shade our grandchildren and their children.

Removing the fig in Civic Park has raised issues that as a community we all need to consider. Our city has changed and will continue to grow around trees planted many years ago.

So how should we manage veteran trees in an urban environment that has changed dramatically over their lifetime?

Newcastle has many hundreds of large mature fig trees on public and private land, most of which were planted between 60 and 80 years ago.

If we reflect on past tree maintenance practices, we will discover that most are no longer in vogue today.

For instance, it was common to cut the tops off trees, almost as if they were rose bushes, and then to continue lopping as a routine practice. At the time, lopping seemed to solve the problems of growing large trees in confined spaces.

What we have found today is that lopping exposes the inner wood of trees to the elements and the bigger the exposed area of wood, the greater the risk that decay will severely weaken the tree at maturity.

At the same time, branches that grow to replace lopped branches are poorly attached and prone to falling.

It was also common in the past to install infrastructure and other civil works by open trench excavation, regardless of the presence of tree roots.

Technology today allows us to bore underneath tree roots and to repair infrastructure such as cables and pipes without open trenching.

However, since trees may take many years to decay, past work damaging the tree is often forgotten.

It has been suggested that we look to the issue of figs in Hyde Park, Sydney, and adopt a similar approach. However, this is comparing apples to pears.

The figs in Hyde Park have enormous space for root stability and have grown on a sandstone soil base. Their stabilising roots have found support in rock sandstone fissures.

By comparison, the figs in Newcastle have to contend with soils built of industrial waste with considerably less space to develop stable root systems.

This is not an issue unique to Newcastle. The management of veteran trees has become problematic for communities in Sydney and Melbourne and internationally. For this reason, a focus on urban tree management has become critical for future sustainability.

Unfortunately, urban living puts stress on our trees. A tree that may live many hundreds of years in natural conditions can reach its aged life after a mere 80 years in urban conditions.

The tree removed from Civic Park last weekend illustrates the problems we have in dealing with our past practices.

So, how should we be treating our trees in the future?

Newcastle City Council has introduced a pro-active approach to selection, maintenance and replacement of our urban trees.

We have surveyed 53,000 street trees and recorded their statistics on a database. We are currently auditing these trees, identifying their maintenance needs and setting an inspection regime for each tree.

We are also investigating the benefits of looking at the trees of Newcastle as an urban forest. An urban forest is simply the total of trees and large shrubs that grow on public and private land in any urban area.

Urban forests contribute significantly to quality of life for urban residents, by capturing stormwater, shading bitumen and buildings, reducing the risk of skin cancer and absorbing fine pollution particles that affect asthmatics.

Newcastle City Council is presently working with the Local Government Association to review software for calculating the benefits of urban forests. We are also developing a more integrated approach to design of new infrastructure so that civil works and trees do not come into conflict in the future.

Newcastle City Council will continue to plant trees in the city and manage these responsibly. Our tree selections have been made with due regard for the future and we do not anticipate the next generation of Novocastrians will have to experience the unexpected and heartbreaking loss of its veteran trees.

Janet Dore is general manager of Newcastle City Council.