Save Our Figs pay for UK arborist visit

SAVE Our Figs revealed yesterday it had paid for United Kingdom-based arborist Mike Ellison to visit Australia and assess the Laman Street figs.

The lobby group also conceded any figs study - either from Mr Ellison or those paid for by council - could not be considered "independent".

Until yesterday it was not known publicly who was paying for his Newcastle trip or even when he would arrive.

The Newcastle Herald can confirm Mr Ellison is due to touch down in Australia this morning.

Fig supporters have argued for months that Newcastle City Council has not been transparent in its dealings while Save Our Figs criticised the council on Monday and Tuesday for refusing Mr Ellison access to the trees.

Save Our Figs spokeswoman Caity Raschke rejected suggestions the group had not made clear its financial arrangement with Mr Ellison.

"Why would he come for nothing?" Dr Raschke said. "If the inference is that [because] we're paying him then his study [is invalid], then surely all the council's so-called independent studies are [invalid].

"What we've wanted from the beginning is a true independent assessment."

Mr Ellison, who invented the risk assessment method used by the council and other groups worldwide, will carry out a visual inspection of the trees.

Cr Graham Boyd said the value of Mr Ellison's report would be questionable, after the arborist told the Herald that it "seems unlikely" the trees present a particularly high risk.

"I note that Mr Ellison has formed an opinion . . . prior to his visual inspection, so being restricted from accessing the trees should not prove a problem in producing his report," he said.

"Council, through its decision-making processes, has resolved that there will be no further assessments and that these trees will be removed and replaced.

"Director [Frank] Cordingley has made the correct decision in light of council's resolutions."

After being informed by the Herald yesterday about who had paid Mr Ellison's airfares, the council released a statement outlining reasons why he was denied access. They included that he "cannot be regarded as independent" due to Save Our Figs funding and because he employs Mark Hartley, who was previously commissioned by Save Our Figs to study the trees.

"Mr Ellison's proposed inspection methods do not address the circumstances in Laman Street," the statement said.

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