Monday, January 18, 2016

Destruction of Laman Street Landscape- one year on

Copy: letters and report written one year on from the January 2012 destruction of the Laman Street Landscape in Newcastle's Civic Precinct.

There was a lack of good faith and transparency in the decision making process and a disregard of the community's 13,320 signatures on the petition objecting to removal of all the trees.

The Hon Barry O’Farrell MP
Premier of NSW
Governor Macquarie Tower
Level 40, 1 Farrer Place

Dear Barry,

Newcastle and the Cultural Precinct One Year On

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in your Government.
You promised and we expected good governance.
But what did we get: Just a takeover of the Corrupt Right Wing power brokers of the ALP.
It is now just one year since you sent in the police to stop the people of Newcastle getting open governance from its last Council on this matter of the destruction of the Laman Street Cultural Landscape.
By not supporting good governance and the caring citizens of the town you unwittingly undermined your own future here.
You will recall I wrote to Mr Ross Woodward, Chief Executive, Division of Local Government asking him to intervene in the interests of good governance with no response..

For you interest I have enclosed a letter to the Lord Mayor Cr Jeff McCloy and a report outlining the background to the Laman Street issue.

I hope you will read it and understand what was happening.

The issue has universal relevance with regard to the problems to Local Government Plans of Management when there is no real overview or effort to support ethical processes.

Yours Sincerely

Doug Lithgow President
Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc
Laman Street Landscape one year on. January 2013

The public beauty, the public shade, the urban amenity are all gone – How did this happen?

The beautiful public trees could easily have been trimmed and the services trenched in the centre of the street as is happening now.

We all should still be enjoying Newcastle’s million dollar Laman Street landscape with its gracious setting for our cultural and Civic Park Precinct. The refusal of the previous Newcastle City Council to allow the internationally recognised tree risk assessment expert Mike Ellison, to inspect the Laman Street figs was the last gambit of a Council determined to avoid formal scrutiny of their Laman Street and Civic Park Landscape and building proposals.

The council closed Laman Street and fenced off a large section of Civic Park and began the destruction using NSW Police to force the issue rather than have a professional review.

Photo: Services being trenched into the centre of Laman Street – This could have been done at any time with the trees in place

This drama had its beginning in 2010 with some councillors expecting the trees to be removed to allow the widening of Laman Street into Civic Park to create a wide mezzanine plaza with an underground building beneath Laman St.
The actual proposal was detailed in Newcastle council's submission sent to the Commonwealth Anzac Centenary Commission at the same time as Parks and Playgrounds Movement began a challenge in the Land and Environment Court. Parts of the proposal were later displayed with the title "Draft Laman Street Civic Precinct Design Framework".
The Movement had no knowledge of the council's proposals for Laman Street when we commenced action in the Court to prevent the arbitrary destruction of the trees. Indeed the Council misinformed the court that there were no proposals.

In the interests of public transparency, we had requested the council to resolve its proposals by a clear draft amendment to the Civic Precinct Plan of Management which at that stage included Laman Street.

 It was proposed within the Council but never actually resolved officially by Councillors to build underground extensions to the Library as shown in this Council displayed cutaway view above. This proposal needed Laman Street to be widened into Civic Park, the trees to be removed and underground powerlines and water mains removed to allow the excavation of the area for the under ground building.

The whole project was not really needed and too damaging to the park and to the trees and was not financially viable. It  should never have been  proposed and if ever it was to succeed it had to be professionally documented and costed and it could only have been legally dealt with as an amendment to Council’s the statutory Plan of Management for Civic Park and by a professional Development Application.

Some councillors seemed determined to promote the less transparent and more confusing approach without proper exhibition and scrutiny by citizens and ratepayers or international experts. We wrote to Ross Woodward, the chief executive of the Local Government Division of the NSW Premier's Department, urging his attention to the matter.
We wrote: "A breakdown of public confidence in the elected council has occurred and requires appropriate investigation . . . and possible intervention to correct the situation." We told him that the council's behaviour had caused heartache and inconvenience to those who care about this city and its amenity. There had been, in our view, an unreasonable cost, inconvenience and waste foisted on ratepayers.

The O’Farrell Government took no action except provide the police.

The Laman Street cultural area was stripped of its attractive, mature trees without a review of the exaggerated risk assessment. Council had relied on that assessment so that they could form an opinion that the trees were a traffic hazard. This allowed the removal of the trees in Laman Street by invoking the NSW Roads Act 1993.

The 14 figs in Laman Street were an important feature of the Council’s official plan of management for Civic Park and should have been considered in a review of that plan. It would have then been publicly exhibited with citizens being lawfully able to make submissions for formal consideration.

Laman Street is a very sad tale with a very damaging and costly outcome for the city its people and its landscape.
Doug Lithgow

 NSW Police guard Laman Street 31 January 2012

Council misinformed the Land and Environment Court in relation to proposed development this was important given that the Parks and Playgrounds Movement  was requesting Council to formally decide on the nature and extent of their proposal and exhibit it as required by the Community Land provisions of the Local Government Act.

                             I.     Council’s Respondent’s Submissions lodged with the Land and Environment Court and dated 5/11/2010 claimed that there was no broader activity proposed other than tree removal.
   (Paragraphs: 76, 77, 78, page15 see Respondent’s Submission L&E Court).

                            II.     The Council’s Submission repeats 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.  

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