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Auckland’s tree protection problem

Written By: - Date published: 11:17 am, November 28th, 2020 - 24 comments
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Tree protection has been a significant issue ever since 2009. That year National passed changes to the Resource Management Act that prevented trees on urban properties with dwellings or factories from being protected unless they were specifically identified in the area’s District Plan. Previously Councils had rules that protected classes of trees, for instance coastal pohutukawa or Kauri over the height of 2 metres. After the change trees were in the remarkable situation that they were the only things that could not be protected by general rules. Signs could be regulated. Tree protection could not.

There was some litigation about the changes. Council managed to get a ruling that protection provided by significant ecological areas, part of the regional policy statement for Auckland remained.

National replied by having a second go at making changes and in particular said that the tree or group of trees had to be inserted in a schedule to the district plan for them to be protected.

When the bill was being considered I went to the select committee hearing. I posted earlier about the experience and said this:

On behalf of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board I went to the select committee and made submissions.  I pointed out that trees were wonderful things, they were integral to the amenity of Titirangi and they were vital for maintaining stability in an area that is stability sensitive.  I suggested that the existing subdivision pattern in the area was predicated on current tree and bush coverage remaining.  We fell trees in Titirangi at our or our neighbour’s peril.

I also pointed out that the proposed protection mechanism, the scheduling of trees, would be cumbersome and excessively bureaucratic. A recent scheduling exercise, plan change 41, had protected 188 trees but only after 4 days of hearing, and the hearing and reading of 94 submissions as well as the arboreal examination of each of the trees. My very rough estimate is that there are approximately 1,500 affected sections in Titirangi and Laingholm, and that the average number of trees per section is 100. To protect each tree would require 150,000 arboreal examinations and on a pro rata basis 3,000 hearing days. I described the scheduling system for protection as “hopelessly unfit for purpose”. There has to be a better way to protect Titirangi’s trees.

Labour MPs on the committee said this about the changes:

Labour contends that the bill will atomise the protection of trees in the urban environment, and ignores the collective and community significance of trees and groups of trees in that environment. We support the general tree protection rules which existed previously. There is a legitimate and important case for protecting trees for wider community benefit and not simply defending the right of an individual property owner to fell any tree on their property.”

Unfortunately the law has not changed even though there has been a change of Government. I am aware that the current Government has been looking into the issue but reached an impasse last term. This term with its super majority hope for change has increased dramatically.

And scheduling is not working, at least in the Auckland situation. Since the Unitary Plan passed in 2016 scheduling has ground to a halt.

Auckland Council’s planning committee recently reviewed scheduling and decided effectively to do nothing. At a time where significant potentially priceless trees are being felled they demurred on the basis that the cost was too much.

The estimated cost of scheduling a tree is about $1500 and the cost of scheduling the 587 current candidates was less than a million dollars. But this was considered to be too expensive. One resolution put to the committee which was later withdrawn stated that “it is not financially viable to review or make changes to the notable tree schedules … at this point in time”. The resolution itself records that the review will happen when resources permit.

With the greatest respect to the Councillors I am aware that Council is under extreme financial stress. But this is the only legal protective measure available for many of our urban trees . To refuse to do anything because of cost means that the Unitary Plan is not being resourced to function the way it was intended.

Perhaps they could consider charging full price for notification applications. I know a number of people and organisations who would crowd fund for this purpose.

So what needs to be done?

Three things:

  1. The Resource Management Act needs to have a couple of snips. Take out section 76(4)-(4D) and sections 4 and 5 of schedule 12. This means that we can then go back to the situation where the democratically elected members of a local authority can determine what is the best way to protect their trees in their area.
  2. Then local authorities need to sit down with their communities and work out how proper tree protection can and should work. Existing Auckland tree protection rules, apart from the significant ecological area rules, have long disappeared and plan changes will be required to bring them back in whatever form.
  3. And in the meantime fund the scheduling of trees as an interim measure. Not all the applications need to be funded at once. A more limited budget and a screening system could be put in place so that only the most notable of applications are processed.

The status quo should not be an option. The city is losing too many of its magnificent trees.

Reprinted from gregpresland.com

24 comments on “Auckland’s tree protection problem ”

  1. Anne 1

    The status quo should not be an option. The city is losing too many of its magnificent trees.

    Hear, hear.
    And I vouch for the beauty of trees which are all too often sacrificed for commercial gain.

    In Devonport we have several avenues of pohutukawa trees which blossom in the weeks leading up to Xmas and sometimes beyond. Against a blue sky on a crystal clear day it is a beautiful sight to behold and is worth a trip to Devonport just to see them.

    Unfortunately, every now and then someone will clandestinely chop one or more of them down or worse still poison them. As far as I can tell they always get away with it.

    • Stunned mullet 1.1

      Not just Devonport Anne, right to the top of the Northshore and into Rodney the swines have despoiled too many trees to count and don't get me started on the disgrace perpetrated in the hills above Long Bay.

  2. Ad 2

    The suburbs from Sandringham to Blockhouse Bay to Avondale to New Lynn are being ripped to shreds by accelerated demolition of houses older than 40 years – and their sections cleared not only of trees but of grass and topsoil – down to the clay for new concrete foundations.

    It's been accelerating over the last three years.

    And with them go the birds, the moths, and all other living things.

    • Incognito 2.1

      Why concrete foundations? Are they building multi-storey houses?

      • mickysavage 2.1.1

        Yep this week in the list of filed resource consents there are 5 residential properties being redeveloped and being converted from 6 dwellings (one of them has two houses) into four apartment blocks and 20 houses. The avalanche is staggering.

        • roblogic

          denser housing means more space for trees AND humans… new suburbs full of sprawly McMansions are the worst of both worlds

          • RedBaronCV

            And more flats to sell to overseas non resident buyers?

          • Ad

            In Auckland – which is 80% of New Zealand's urban and suburban construction – that's simply not the case. The trees are being simply mulched.

          • Molly

            only if accompanied by good design and planning that allows for this.

            The Auckland Design Manual was supposed to fill this purpose, but was made toothless when the decision was made to not make consideration of the design manual compulsory in conjunction with the Unitary Plan.

            Mike Lee got vilified for voting against this move, and was described as being against density in Auckland. He was quite rightly against the removal of safeguarding good design, which had been promised all the way through the Unitary Plan discussions by the creation of the Auckland Design Manual. (From what I can recall, Mike Lee was involved in the Auckland Design Manual, so knew in detail what restraints were being given up).

            I agree with better resource use and higher density.

            Higher density without good design or planning does not necessarily provide good outcomes – including for providing homes for the currently homeless or accommodation stricken. Unfortunately, I believe a worse outcome is what we have ended up with the Unitary Plan in it's current form.

        • Incognito


          When and where there’s a need demand and an opportunity, the market will respond. It’s up to local authorities, policy makers, and Law makers to make sure things don’t off track or off the rails without stifling other things. Not an easy job, I’d imagine; only the best need apply.

          • Ad

            The areas where high density are appropriate in Auckland are along regional roads and rail lines and within existing town centres. That's happening with some good developers.

            Instead of good density, the suburban biosphere is being shredded.

  3. RedBaronCV 3

    Yeah well if labour can't be bothered protecting workers why would trees get a look in no no matter how much they deserve it.

    • greywarshark 3.1

      Do trees vote? Terry Patchett's The Luggage made of Sapient Pear we could do with to give Labour a fright. Some versions of this mythical creature. It can be seen rocketing along in this trailer (very loud).


      • greywarshark 3.1.1

        This reveals the virtues of sapient pearwood of which The Luggage is made.


        The Luggage is a trunk with legs. It is made of sapient pearwood, and is immensely faithful. … It appears to hold many dimensions, and has often swallowed people that have tried to hurt its owner. It always has a pair of fresh underwear ready smelling slightly of lavender. ..

        In order to eat the enemies of its owner, the Luggage will usually lure them with a trap, such as raising its lid invitingly to reveal piles of gleaming gold. The last sight many unlucky men see at the mercy of the Luggage are large, tombstone-like teeth and a huge red tongue.

        However, if left behind somewhere and forced to catch up with its owner, the Luggage often just tears through a place leaving a wake of destruction and completely swallowing everything in its path. A person can survive inside the Luggage, however, as mentioned above.

        The Luggage is often seen as a malevolent entity…

        Which means it gets taken seriously, which it is feared, Labour voters are not.

  4. R.P Mcmurphy 4

    the first thing Auckland needs to do is whip cathy casey and pippa coom into line. They pay lip service to trees when in truth they have no aesthetic or appreciation of natural beauty whatsoever. they have pussy whipped phil goff into servile obeisance and are determinend to wreck robbies park for their own little private left wing agenda. the tangata whenua dont seem to have any idea either preferring natives to any suggestion of exotic trees that will bestow pleasant greenery. the whole thing is a travesty.

    • Johnr 4.1

      Can I suggest that trying to achieve anything other than some grandiose feel good mega buck scheme in the CBD, americas cup included, is a futile exercise in this misnamed supa city. Goff may well be a rellie of mine, but he sure lives on the other side of the tracks from me and mine

      [Fixed typo in e-mail address]

  5. R.P Mcmurphy 5

    they all blinded by the BUDGET and the feelings of power they get from working their will on the world for good or for ill they dont care.

    They dont care less about trees or the environment. they just want to have their bums kissed when they get up and make a big speech about it.

    meanwhile the closet lefties are getting on with revising history and excising robbies memory.

    I dont vote national and never will but going to these lengths to remove his name by defiling robbies park is worthy of stalin and beria at their best

  6. Brendan 6

    No point making amendments.

    Labour is replacing the RMA.

    Contact the responsible minister.

  7. George 7

    Aaah titirangi…the birdsong and the chainsaws – which are continuous. I moved here from inner city Auckland four years ago and was horrified to be woken every Saturday morning since by the sound of the bloody chainsaws!!

    More tuis, ruru, and fantails please. We are losing our identity and our fauna as our flora are being devastated. It's a massacre out here. It's not just kauri and pohutukawa, it's kanuka, and manuka, and the best tree of them all puriri. People wake up! The very beautiful qualities that makes you want to live here… you are destroying them.

    We also found on our property… previously owned we are told by active environmental supporters, loads of dumped and buried plastic rubbish… recently enough to belong to them. Fake greenies! The property is covered in it! So here we are living the dream…

    • R.P Mcmurphy 7.1

      true George

      they all paying lip service to this nebulous ideal of creating paradise on earth but doing the exact opposite.

      all wrapped up in orwellian doublespeak

      they are committed to cars and suits and jets and every gee gaw, gadget, and noisy piece of machinery that makes a noise they can get their hands on.

      they are all addicted to the throb of the internal combustion engine and the insatiable demand for goods so they can reference themselves by their possessions

      its all quite tragic really.

      everybody after their little bit and nobody can see the whole which is rotting from the inside out

      the end is nigh. hahaha.

      • greywarshark 7.1.1

        Talk the talk, but not walk the walk. One of the main problems today is people appearing to be green or hip or whatever, and despising the actual adherents to the mahi.

        • R.P Mcmurphy


          It isn't easy being green.

          I was in the beech forest action group in the 70's.

          It cost me everything

    • Incognito 7.2

      The sound of chainsaws is the sound of limp middle-aged middle-managers feeling mighty masculine thanks to their power tool. They are scent marking their territory and letting other limp ones know that they are not to be messed with. Don’t get me started on leaf blowers used by morons who never vacuum-clean inside but go nuts outside with an inverted vacuum cleaner on steroids.

      When you live in the bush, it is amazing how quickly it encroaches on everything. It is basic maintenance to keep the bush at bay. However, secateurs, loppers, an axe, a pruning saw, and a good spade are all you need and you it’ll give a good workout too and no CO2 emissions either.

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