ONCE upon a time there were 14 fig trees.
But they are only half of this story.
Newcastle City Council has been paralysed by the saga of Laman Street and the proposed removal of its green cathedral arch. The garbage trucks still rumble through quiet suburban streets each morning, and rates notices arrive in letterboxes every three months like clockwork.
Councillors insist, in the way they tend to do, that they are ‘‘getting on with the job’’. The business of running a city goes on.
But the truth is that the city has not been able to move beyond the Laman Street fiasco, which seems no nearer to a resolution after what seems like an infinity. Councillors, bureaucrats, community members and the media have been consumed by the future of 14 trees.
But this article is not about the trees. They haven’t been the story for some time.
Two political battles have been running through the corridors of City Hall during the life of this council. Laman Street has brought them both out into the open.
The first is an internal power struggle. It’s the same struggle that came to the surface last November when former general manager Lindy Hyam quit and several councillors stood side-by-side calling for lord mayor John Tate’s head. The battle lines are drawn around personal alliances and rivalries among councillors and management.
The second is a political war, waged mostly by Newcastle’s political left and by grassroots community groups, for the city’s hearts and minds.
The word that seems to scare a council most is ‘‘dysfunctional’’.
For almost two years, Newcastle councillors did everything in their power to shake off the tag their predecessors had worn like a crown of thorns.
The last elected council had been tarred by perceptions of inaction and constant infighting. The saga of the ‘‘very large rock’’ on Shortland Esplanade that took three years to remove wore the public’s patience thin, as did the infamous meeting blow-ups, including during a debate in 2007 about hot chips being served at the proposed new Surfhouse in Merewether.