Tell us your vision for Laman Street – if you managed to get around the website

Filed under Letters ~ by Editor on  24 Feb 2010

Council website has problems – this reduces community feedback and the deadline to nominate for the workshop or put ideas to council is way too early.

Newcastle City Council wants to chop down a row of 80-year-old Hill’s fig trees in Newcastle’s most beautiful street, supposedly because they’re worried they’ll hurt someone, even though they have been told that the chances of being killed by a street tree in Australia is 1 in many million.

In December, after a community outcry, council voted to postpone their decision till May, using the time for ‘community consultation’.

The first part of that ‘consultation’ was by way of residents telling council their ‘vision’ for the street.

Many people had trouble doing this online. The problem was that that the site registered a user as having already given their opinion by just opening the page. If you’re a bit indecisive and wanted to think about what to say you were up the creek.

Another difficulty was the map supplied – this put many people off as they assumed they had to fill it in when all many of them wanted to say was ‘Leave the figs alone, the street is perfect.’

A third problem was that the site said people could email their vision but the form couldn’t be filled in online.

How much time did council give people to put their vision in? Just three weeks. With still a month to go before the workshops people are asking what’s the rush to stop the feedback?

The other part of the community consultation is the ‘charette’ being held in March. Never heard of a charette? It’s supposed to be a way of getting council and stakeholders together and to go through the issues to get to a rapid conclusion.

If you Google the phrase ‘charette or charade’ you get 5740 hits, most of them sad stories about communities whose vision was stifled by bureaucrats. Some writers say charettes are a way of making it look as though you’ve consulted the community when all you’re doing is stifling debate and looking as though you are fulfilling a development requirement to concult.

The fig tree charette has places for only 70 people in a city of 155 000 and region of 400 000.

It’s going to take 2 days. ‘The charette handbook’ says the process should take more than three!

A charette is supposed to be preceded by large information sessions but these won’t be available. Council say they will follow the charette which obviously means they can’t influence the outcome of the workshop.

The process takes part on a Friday and Saturday – by definition it excludes many working residents.

The charette was supposed to be a meeting about the Laman Street figs and alternatives to clear-felling the trees but Lord Mayor John Tate and supporters have hi-jacked the meeting to champion John Tate’s ridiculous vision about a car park under Civic Park which no doubt will mean the Laman Street trees and lots more will have to go.

Council is stacking the charrette: one third is comprised at least partly of council and government employees. You can imagine how free to speak out an employee of council is going to feel.

Some people are asking whether Council is also asking for people’s vision on the website to vet people who apply to attend -to stack the odds in council’s favour to ensure a council- based result whilst giving council the appearance of public participation.

The so-called independence of ‘independent experts’ advertised at the charette is obviously questionable as they are sourced adn paid by council. It’s hard to imagine that won’t strive to ensure to deliver a client- ie council- based result to justify their fees and commissions. They should not and can not be called independent in any way. It’s time we called them ‘council-appointed consultants’.

The only ‘independent expert’ needed in Laman Street is an arborist to tell council how to look after these trees for as long as possible.

Charette or charade indeed.

Caitlin Raschke


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