Labor councillors give up Laman St fig fight

THE Laman Street fig trees are finally set for the chop after Newcastle Labor councillors effectively conceded defeat yesterday in the long-running and costly dispute.

Councillors Sharon Claydon, Tim Crakanthorp and Nuatali Nelmes said in a statement they would withdraw a key motion to close Laman Street to vehicular traffic, citing a lack of numbers within the council chamber and ongoing costs.

‘‘To prolong this situation any further is a waste of ratepayers’ money and resources,’’ the councillors said.

More significantly, the decision leaves Greens councillor Michael Osborne unable to lodge a rescission motion to stop the figs’ removal.

Three signatures are required, and the motion is only backed by Cr Osborne and lord mayor John Tate.

‘‘I was hoping one of the Labor councillors would sign [the rescission motion],’’ Cr Osborne said.

‘‘It’s very disappointing.’’

The fiasco has cost the council more than $1.5 million and involved 22 council debates.

It now appears extremely unlikely the future of the 14 fig trees will be debated again.

A council spokeswoman said yesterday it could now proceed with the removal of the trees ‘‘as soon as practical’’ in line with the vote from July.

But the Newcastle Herald understands it is unlikely that work will begin before the year’s end.

The council said a number of logistical factors needed to be considered. The city’s art gallery and library would need to be closed, and resistance to that idea was expected.

It is also unlikely that significant police resources will be available to support ‘‘Operation Beanstalk’’ over the Christmas period.

Cr Bob Cook welcomed the councillors’ decision and urged the council administration to proceed ‘‘as soon as possible’’.

Labor councillors advised council staff they would formally withdraw their plan late yesterday.

‘‘We acknowledge that we do not have the support of the majority of councillors and, as such, we will not proceed any further with our motion,’’ the statement said.

‘‘It is a matter of public record that seven councillors are in favour of wholesale removal of the Laman Street figs.

‘‘We are disappointed that our fellow councillors have been unwilling to support our attempts to resolve this issue ...

‘‘It has been made clear to us that even if our motion had been successful last night, opposing councillors would have immediately moved to rescind our motion, leaving the issue unresolved, rendering the site inoperative for many more months and allowing the costs to spiral further, with no end in sight.’’

Save Our Figs spokeswoman Fee Mozeley said the group was hopeful of finding a circuit breaker or state government intervention.

Cr Tate could not see any way that the council’s decision could be changed.

‘‘But we’ve had so many twists and turns, who knows what will happen next.’’

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