Sunday, February 12, 2012


Greg Ray’s article ‘Yes, I still give a fig’ (NH H2 11/2/2012) will echo the feelings of many Novocastrians. The Laman Street landscape was a significant public landscape that should never have been destroyed without public exhibition and examination of the statutory Plan of Management of which it was an integral part.

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.

Letters Dated:
1. 21st November 2002
2. 13th September 2010
3. 1st May 2011
4. 17th December 2011
5. 27th January 2012

Letter No. 1
Thursday, 21 November 2002
Janice Walsh

Janice Walsh
Group Manager (City Services & Presentation)
Newcastle City Council
Box 489 NEWCASTLE 2300

Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) – Laman St., Newcastle

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.

Yours sincerely,

Doug Lithgow
Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Letter No. 2
Monday, 13 September 2010
Lord Mayor John Tate,
Ms Lindy Hyam General Manager and Councillors

Newcastle City Council
King Street, Newcastle 2300

Dear John, Lindy and Councillors,

Laman Street trees feature of the Cultural Precinct

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.

These trees have survived all recent storms and their cathedral arch form is greatly loved by Newcastle citizens and is not in danger of immanent collapse.

The Lord Mayor will remember the inspection of the Port Jackson Fig near the pedestrian crossing in Nov. 2002. We were in the company of the former GM and Engineer in the group. Council’s Arborist struck the trees with a rubber hammer and because of the different sound announced that the tree was hollow and had to be cut down. I have photos of every stage of the felling of that tree and there were no hollows anywhere in the tree. The Arborist was wrong. I have since tested trees of that species in Newcastle and Centennial Park in Sydney and found they all have that same distinctive ring.

The real threat to these trees is the location of the Laman Street water main underneath the trees on the south side of the street. This can easily be remedied by the relocation of the water main to the centre of the street when the new layout of the pavement is determined. You will note in the Water Corp plan below that the water main is already in the centre of Auckland Street and in Laman Street in the front of the Presbyterian Church.

I represented the Parks and Playgrounds Movement at Council’s recent two day charrette considering this whole matter and it was generally decided that the consultant prepare a design that would provide for the staged development so that the arch structure of the feature would not be lost or destroyed.

It is distressing to see council acting in ba d faith by moving arbitrarily to remove this unique landscape feature from the City.

We appeal to you to publicly exhibit the overall plan of management for Civic Park and Laman Street so the general public will have the opportunity comment on the proposals before Council continues with this destruction.

Yours Sincerely
Doug Lithgow
Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Letter No. 3
1st May 2011
Mr Rob Noble Acting General Manager

Newcastle City Council
PO Box 489 Newcastle 2300

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.

These trees are much loved by the people of Newcastle and are the principal landscape feature in the Civic Precinct.

We wrote that Council has on a number of occasions prepared proposals for the Civic Precinct (Cultural Precinct) and all of the proposals had identified the importance the Ficus trees provid ing a landscape structure. The Draft Laman Street Civic Design Framework is the first proposal that had suggested the removal of this important landscape feature. The argument of Risk Management has been used to give credence to tree removal but had been poorly assessed. We now know that Council had a clandestine reason which should have been made public before the costly and unnecessary litigation.

In our letter of the 28th of Feb 2011 we drew your attention to the ‘Internal Memo’ sent to all Councillors from the Executive Leadership Team on the 23 Sep 2010 signed by Judy Jaeger with the Subject Title ‘Commemorating the Anzac Centenary’.

As a community group working in the public interest for this city we feel that Council had been insincere in holding the Civic Charrette when it had already clandestinely prepared this centenary proposal but not brought it to the charrette. However as a member of the Charrette I was concerned that we were going over the ground that many councils had previously identified.

There was one vaguely expressed proposal that really alarmed me concerning the building of an underground entrance into the Library. It was put to the Charrette by the Facilitator and glossed over by Judy Jaeger. I rejected the idea outright at the Charrette because even though I was not privy to the proposal that the Leadership Team was obvio usly preparing, I could see all the aesthetic and engineering imponderables hidden in the idea. Not to mention the problems with the Civic Park Fountain, the removal of the Memorial Grove and cutting the established Civic Axis and the destruction of the principal landscape feature the Laman Street Trees.

Of course the Parks and Playgrounds Movement want to see a high standard of Landscape maintenance and a unified scheme prepared for the precinct. Our actions since 1968 when we prepared the first concept for the Civic Area are clear public evidence of our bona- fides. We have positively commented on every proposal for the area that Council was brought to the public and have been disappointed that no real progress was made on implementation by the Council.

The Movement is conscious that the elected Councillors are the current trustees of Civic Park for the general public and we made our submission a copy of which I have again enclosed for your convenience. It is in a pdf format titled Civic Park – Civic Precinct Design Framework 24/2/2011.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement formally request that we be allowed address the current Council Laman Street Working Party at a suitable date because Laman Street must be regarded visually and physically as an integral part of the Civic Park Precinct.

We trust that this can be arranged.

Yours sincerely,
Doug Lithgow
Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc.

Letter No. 4
17th December 2011
Mr Ross Woodward Chief Executive

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

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 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.

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
Mr Tim Owens MP Member for Newcastle

Letter No. 5
27 January 2012
Mr Phil Pearce

Phil Pearce
General Manager
Newcastle City Council
27 January 2012

Urgent and Confidential

I note a full page letter from you to the Community in the Newcastle Herald 25/1/2012.

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.
It clearly illustrates a development that widens Laman Street into Civic Park and this is not provided for in the Civic Park Plan of Management.
It is a development that will require massive engineering work, new levels and new pavements and the expenditure of Council funds. The exhib ited design framework even shows a under Laman St Library building.
I raised this matter of development at a meeting on the 29th of June 2011with the Acting General Manager, Rob Noble, Jill Gaynor - Manager Strategic Planning Services, Ian Rhodes - Community Planning Coordinator and Deborah Alterator - Manager Place Management Services. Ms Jill Gaynor when questioned by Mr Noble assured Mr Noble that there was no development proposed.
I have since reviewed the evidence placed before the court by the Counc il in the case P&PM V Newcastle Council which raises further matters of untruthfulness. There is also the perceived immorality of Council using the Roads Act to escape the duty of formally exhibiting the proposed development.
These problems should be corrected at your administration level or they will have to be ultimately dealt with by the Department Local Government.
I would like to discuss these matters with you as a matter of urgency.
Yours sincerely
Doug Lithgow