Injunction forces new vote on Laman St figs

AFTER two years of council brawling, three months of stalling, and ratepayers $1.5million out of pocket, the Laman Street debate is back to square one.

The NSW Land and Environment Court has ordered that the street’s fig trees not be removed until at least December, ensuring that Newcastle councillors will vote for a 13th time on the long-running dispute.

In a 30-page written judgment, Justice Peter Biscoe said his decision to grant an injunction would have the effect of allowing the council to lawfully consider Premier Barry O’Farrell’s offer of an arborist to assess the trees.

The council had been unable to rescind or alter its decision to remove the trees before November 25 because of a provision in the NSW Local Government Act.

Justice Biscoe said there were ‘‘considerable difficulties’’ in the case brought to the court by Save Our Figs.

‘‘The argument ... is not strong and is bedevilled by difficulties,’’ he said. ‘‘However, on balance, I am prepared to accept that it just rises to the status of a serious question to be tried.

‘‘After weighing the various considerations, I conclude that the balance of convenience marginally favours the grant of an ... injunction.’’

The council initially voted to fell the trees on July 19, but despite at least four false starts only a few branches were cut.

Work has been stalled by a rescission motion, a mediation, an ‘‘unlawful’’ motion for an independent assessment, ugly clashes at community protests that prompted increased security, and the court case.

The decision is a massive win for Save Our Figs, and the group said yesterday it would continue to push for an independent risk assessment when the council next meets.

‘‘I’m relieved,’’ spokeswoman Fee Mozeley said yesterday. ‘‘The council and the community can now come together ... and find a way forward.’’

Cr Bob Cook said he would be willing to support an evaluation of whether the council’s initial decision was reasonable, but not another risk assessment.

An adjourned council meeting to discuss the issue will resume on November 29.

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