OPINION: Newcastle City Council and the Laman Street figs

Nothing fights like a cornered cat. Except Newcastle City Council trying to prevent an independent analysis of its claims that the Laman Street figs are unsafe.

Ever had to catch a feral cat?

I did, once.

I cornered it under our house, threw a blanket over it and wrestled it into a box.

Damn thing was a raging, twisting, spitting ball of muscle and hate, just trying to sink its teeth into me and rake me with its claws.

Got me, too. Bit my thumb so it bled and I had to get a tetanus needle.

Nothing fights like a cornered cat.

Except Newcastle City Council trying to prevent an independent analysis of its claims that the Laman Street figs are unsafe.

The council’s twists and turns, and the amount of muscle – in the form of ratepayers’ money thrown into the fight – makes that feral beast I wrestled seem like, well, a pussy cat.

Yeah, yeah, I know. They’ve already got blah blah blah experts saying blah blah that the trees are a traffic hazard and therefore have to be cut down, in line with what appears to me to have been the council’s decades-old ambition to let the world have a clear view of the facade of the 1957 civic cultural centre.

Except I, and about 10,000 other people, have got a few nagging little doubts.

Sorry about that.

It’s like if I had a heritage building that I personally hated but other people loved. Imagine I’d been bleating in the press for decades about how bad that rotten awful building was, and how nice it would be if it was demolished.

I kept trying to flatten it, but whenever I brought the topic up I got thwarted by those horrible greenies and heritage types who everybody knows are the only reason nothing good ever happens around here.

So then one day I turned up with a bundle of reports that said my building was a deadly danger to small children and innocent young mothers and I called in the demolishers.

Do you think you might tap me on the shoulder and tell me you want an independent report?

Nah, course not. Didn’t think so.

Specially because I’d phoned my insurance company and asked how they liked providing cover now I had all these reports. They said ‘‘No way, Jose’’.

Actually, they offered to pay for an independent report, but then it was my turn to say “No way”.

You wouldn’t want to expose me to the risk of “reputational damage” would you?

Like, if it turned out my building was actually not too bad after all.

I wouldn’t like that too much. Embarrassing.

But that’s just a hypothetical “what if?” scenario about me and an imaginary building that everybody knew I’d been trying to get rid of for years.

That’s not Newcastle City Council.

The real reason Newcastle City Council has been willing to spend many, many, many times the amount of money fighting to prevent an independent assessment of the Laman Street fig trees that it would have cost to have that assessment done can’t be to do with any fear of “reputational damage”, no matter what any councillor might say.

You can be sure that the council would just love to get this all sorted out in the open and clear for all to see.

But, hang it, they just can’t because it mightn’t be legal.

And once again they’ve got a bundle of reports to back them up on that.

And just like with the figs themselves, the bundles of reports that other people have got saying the exact opposite are obviously just dead wrong.

So, the council won’t vote on a motion to invite the Premier of NSW to provide an independent assessment of the fig trees because, gosh darn it, it’s got a legal opinion that says it wouldn’t be legal to debate that possibility.

Illegal? Ooohhh, golly. I can see the queue around the block to sue the civic leaders if they illegally voted to get an independent assessment of a controversial council matter.

Yessir, it was hunky-dory, gold-plated 100per cent legal and lovely when the council organisation completely ignored a vote by councillors in December 2010 to keep the trees and make Laman Street one-way.

They legally ignored it for more than three months so it was totally kosher and better than good when a vote in the opposite direction was put forward and won.

It was cool and good and right and proper to ignore and delay a vote to keep the figs. But now it is scandalously illegal to delay the big chop. Because, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, and legal advice, blah, blah.

And it is 24-carat local government best practice to spend $1million of other people’s money to avoid having to spend a fraction of that – or maybe nothing at all – just making sure the trees are honestly truly the deadly threat to life on earth that council says they are.

Bring me back my feral cat; I want to have another wrestle with an opponent I understand.

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