Traffic plan latest step in figs fiasco

A FIGHT over the future of the Laman Street figs is far from over with moves afoot to permanently close the street to vehicles, forcing a re-assessment of the risks posed by the trees to public safety.

A motion lodged with Newcastle City Council yesterday also asks the council to once again consider and accept Premier Barry O’Farrell’s offer of a state government-backed arborist to conduct an expert assessment of the trees.

If the council closed Laman Street to traffic, any earlier decisions factoring in through-vehicle traffic would be ‘‘inoperative’’, the motion, signed by Labor councillors Nuatali Nelmes and Tim Crakanthorp, says.

A council spokeswoman said it appeared the motion put on hold any immediate plans to fell the trees, but could not be definitive.

Cr Nelmes said she was waiting on advice from the council’s legal department as to whether the motion was worded strongly enough to prevent the felling of the trees before the motion could be considered by the council at its next meeting on December 20.

‘‘We are tying to get back to basics in terms of what is actually the problem at Laman Street and the problem is risk mitigation and community safety,’’ she said.

‘‘Laman Street has been closed for a few months now and it hasn’t affected traffic flow through the city centre. So if we closed it to traffic then we could look at different ways of managing the trees. We still maintain that a phased removal is the only practical solution.’’

Greens councillor Michael Osborne said he did not think that the motion was strong enough to stave off the chainsaws.

He and lord mayor John Tate had hoped Cr Nelmes would sign their rescission motion to reverse the council’s July 19 decision to remove the fig trees.

There was outrage on both sides of the debate yesterday over the response to the council’s rejection on Thursday night of the state government’s offer of an independent risk assessment.

As a result of that decision, Save Our Figs abandoned its legal battle against Newcastle City Council in the Land and Environment Court, putting an end to hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

Newcastle litigator Catherine Henry, for Save Our Figs, confirmed that there were now no grounds to proceed given the action was designed to ensure the council and the general manager gave proper consideration to the state government’s offer.

‘‘Now, as they have considered and rejected the premier’s invitation, the proceedings have by consent been dissolved this morning,’’ she said.

But Save Our Figs was still considering its options.

‘‘The fight will go on,’’ Ms Henry said.

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