Laman Street fig trees fight continues

A NEWCASTLE City Council undertaking not to remove the Laman Street figs has been extended again while a judge considers whether to make an order preventing their removal ahead of a full court hearing.

Justice Peter Biscoe, of the NSW Land and Environment Court, reserved his decision yesterday on whether to grant an injunction to the Save Our Figs group.

The group is seeking a declaration that the council, specifically general manager Phil Pearce, failed to genuinely consider an offer from Premier Barry O’Farrell to provide on request a state government arborist to assess the trees.

The council says Mr Pearce was not bound to consider the utterings of a politician.

The issue is expected to be determined after another hearing, possibly early next month.

The council agreed yesterday not to resume removing the trees before 5pm on the day of the decision about the injunction.

The court heard that the council’s public liability insurance for the figs is expected to expire at the end of the month.

The council’s barrister, James Stevenson SC, told the court Statewide Mutual had agreed to extend the insurance until November 30, provided an exclusion zone around the trees remained in place. But the council had been told the insurer would be unwilling to give another extension.

‘‘And that might well be its own fault,’’ Save Our Figs barrister Tim Robertson SC responded.

He said Statewide Mutual had offered a risk assessment of the trees but the council had refused it.

Mr Stevenson said the insurer would have required all stakeholders to accept the assessment’s findings, which the council could not promise.

Justice Biscoe asked several times why the two parties had not opted to find another arborist to conduct an independent assessment that they both agreed should be done.

‘‘It just seems surprising, shall I say, that there can’t be an agreement or a formula where that person can be identified,’’ he said.

Mr Stevenson said the agreement stated that the assessment would not be done if arborist Lyndal Plant was not available.

Ms Plant’s employer subsequently objected to her conducting the assessment.

Under the Local Government Act, councillors cannot attempt to rescind a resolution to remove the trees before the end of this month.

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