TORONTO’S iconic fig trees won a stay of execution on Monday night, when Lake Macquarie councillors voted to defer a decision to chop them down.
A petition submitted to the council with 1031 signatures calling for further community consultation won unanimous support of councillors.
Council staff had recommended replacing the nine fig trees as part of a plan to upgrade the town’s main street – The Boulevarde.
Petitioners accused council staff of seeking to rush through a decision, in a bid to avoid the political circus that emerged in Newcastle over the Laman Street figs.
Toronto Area Sustainable Neighbourhood Group team leader Steve Dewar said the council had ‘‘whitewashed and glossed over" his group’s submission calling for the figs to be retained.
"It was strongly put to them to investigate more and try to save the figs," Mr Dewar said.
Cr Daniel Wallace said the council had done community consultation but ‘‘obviously there’s still 1000 people not sure exactly what we’re doing".
Cr Wallace called for a community forum to further discuss the matter.
Mayor Jodie Harrison said she was in favour of ‘‘leadership that takes the community with it’’.
Cr Ken Paxinos said it would be ‘‘wise to re-engage the community" and the council should ‘‘adjust our plans if we feel there’s a case to do that’’.
Fennell Bay’s Toni Lorentzen, who established the petition, welcomed the decision for further consultation.
Several councillors who spoke last month in favour of replacing the trees appear to have softened their stance and reacted to public pressure.
The council issued a media release in late July, which referred to a ‘‘tree replacement plan" within a master plan to upgrade the street.
It conducted ‘‘formal consultation" from July 11 to August 5, a council report said.
Seventeen submissions were received opposing removal, but 14 submissions were in favour of the plan, the report said.
’’While many of the comments against removal of the trees are valid, they do not provide a substantial case for retention," the report said.
The Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust of Australia emailed Cr Harrison on Monday, saying it had been unaware of the plan to remove the figs.
"We express our strong objection to the proposal," committee chairman Keith Parsons said.
"We ask council not to repeat the mistakes made by Newcastle City Council with the destruction of the Laman Street figs.’’