Perhaps, now that the Newcastle Council has felled the Laman Street figs identified in the Civic Precinct, Judy Jaeger the Future City Manager will acknowledge the proposal she submitted to the Anzac Centenary Commission on behalf of the ‘City of Newcastle Local Government’ early September 2010.
Interestingly Ms Jaeger wrote in the 2010 submission, “Recent community consultation has endorsed the idea that Laman Street should be upgraded to become a mezzanine to Civic Park a cultural gathering place beyond its present function as a roadway”. Later in the 2010 submission she adds, “Fig trees in Laman Street, which fronts the park and is the address of the Library and the Art Gallery, are presently being removed due to the risk they pose to the public”.
The Mezzanine proposal had never been discussed in the community or in the Newcastle Council or at the two Day Workshop held March 2010 especially to consider the whole Civic Precinct including Laman Street. More distressingly, the proposal was surreptitiously sent to the Commonwealth Commission but not disclosed openly in Newcastle or in the Land and Environment Court which was reviewing Council’s action in invoking Sec 88 of the Roads Act to remove the fig trees without public consideration or environmental assessment.
I raised this development matter at a meeting with Council managers and the Acting General Manager Mr Noble on the 29th of June 2011. Ms Jill Gaynor (Strategic Planning Services) when questioned assured the Acting General Manager that there was no development proposed.
This is confusing because the development was one of the proposals in the Framework Design Principles displayed by Council over Christmas 2010 which was after the court case. On Monday 13th September 2010 the Movement wrote to the General Manager and all Councillors appealing to them to formally exhibit their proposal for the Precinct including Civic Park and Laman Street. The reply was to invoke the Roads Act and notify their intention to start removing the trees. Reluctantly we sought and were granted an injunction to restrain the Council. The Council fought the case with extraordinary belligerence and we were not allowed to use our expert evidence question the merit of the Council’s action.
Citizens and Ratepayers have a moral and legal right to know the truth and the belligerent seven Councillors may have succeeded in felling the trees but by denying the truth they have lost the confidence of the people.
Doug Lithgow President
Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc
Copies of five significant items of Correspondence sent by Parks and Playgrounds Movement to the
Newcastle City Council about the Laman Street Landscape.
1. 21st November 2002
2. 13th September 2010
3. 1st May 2011
4. 17th December 2011
5. 27th January 2012
Thursday, 21 November 2002
Group Manager (City Services & Presentation)
Newcastle City Council
Box 489 NEWCASTLE 2300
Reference is made to your communication EDMS 552039 dated 11 Nov 2002.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement appreciate your letter but point out that it was subsequently revealed that the tree did not pose the hazard first thought. The progressive cutting of the tree revealed sound wood and no obvious decay.
We were very disappointed when Council determined to cut the tree down rather than prune the tree as discussed on our inspection or allow the tree to respond to arboricultural management and care.
We are particularly disturbed because this is the second subjective destruction of an important Civic Park tree, which is without parallel and is certainly contrary to the statutory responsibility of Council to implement the official Plan of Management for the Park.
Of course it is Council’s responsibility also to protect the public when there is danger or the likelihood of danger. In this case Council did barricade the area it thought was hazardous.
However it was ultimately demonstrated that the tree was sound and not dangerous.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement suggested that the tree should be given the chance to respond by watering of the root system and given a fine mist spraying to create humidity within the canopy.
Council did not have to pre-empt proper arboriculture and testing by cutting the tree down.
The Movement acknowledged that the tree was debilitated in our letter of the 1st November but not dead and that the main limb and trunk made a distinctive ring that was different to that heard when the Ficus Hillii was struck with a soft faced hammer. We now know by testing other Port Jackson Figs in Newcastle and at Centennial Park in Sydney that the Ficus rubignosia naturally has a distinctive ring, which doesn’t indicate that the tree is hollow, or diseased. The possibility of reducing the spread of the tree crown was discussed during the inspection with the Lord Mayor yourself and the Arborist.
The Laman Street concourse of trees is the most valuable arbour feature in the Civic/Cultural Precinct.
Council gardening staff has especially nurtured these splendid trees over the last forty years. Each tree is identified in the Civic Park Plan of Management which states that Council will: Carry out appropriate arboricultural management practices to ensure the health and longevity of the trees.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement affirm that Council is required to exercise its responsibility as stated in the Plan of Management. The subjective considerations of hazard should not be used to arbitrarily destroy Newcastle’s significant and widely appreciated Civic Cultural Precinct landscape.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement
Monday, 13 September 2010
Newcastle City Council
King Street, Newcastle 2300
Dear John, Lindy and Councillors,
Parks and Playgrounds Movement appeal to Newcastle City Councillors to formally exhibit their proposals for the iconic Tree Lined Streetscape in front of the Cultural Centre and Art Gallery in Laman Street Newcastle together with the plan of management for the future of Civic Park.
The Laman Street group of trees at the Art Gallery and Cultural Centre is an integral feature of the Newcastle Cultural Precinct and have been identified as of great significance to the City of Newcastle in all official plans of management for Civic Park.
We make this request so that the Landscape of the Cultural Precinct can be conserved and developed in a professional way through the established legal planning framework.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement
1st May 2011
Mr Rob Noble Acting General Manager
Dear Mr Noble,
Request to address Laman Street Working Party re Civic Design Framework and Trees Parks and Playgrounds Movement wrote on the 28th February 2011 enclosing our response to the Draft Framework and said that we were pleased that Council had decided to publicly exhibit the Design Framework for the Civic Precinct. You may recall that the Movement was forced to begin litigation in the public interest because of the precipitous action of the City Council starting the removal of the Laman Street trees before first determining the Design Framework.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc.
17th December 2011
Mr Ross Woodward Chief Executive
NSW Premier’s Department
50 Keefe Ave
Locked Bag 3015
NOWRA NSW 2541
Dear Mr Woodward
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.
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 cons idering 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: 17/09/2010
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.
President Parks and Playgrounds Movement
The Premier of NSW the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP
General Manager & Lord Mayor Newcastle City Council
Mr Tim Owens MP Member for Newcastle
27 January 2012
Mr Phil Pearce
Newcastle City Council
27 January 2012
The Artists impression in your letter purports to illustrate what Laman Street will look like in 15 years. An ordinary person looking at the illustration will see a paved plaza that has been created level with the existing ground floor of the Library. In this plaza can be seen trees, motorcars, pedestrians, a skateboard rider and a bicycle with the plaza extending into Civic Park.