Tree protection for urban trees to be restored

Written By: - Date published: 8:28 am, August 6th, 2023 - 12 comments
Categories: Environment, labour, national, political parties - Tags:

Tree protection is an issue that I have followed rather intently for the past few decades. Living nestled in Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa in Titirangi’s magnificent but slip prone hills has made me appreciate the importance of trees.

And it is not only to stability that trees contribute. They provide artistic inspiration, a home for flora and fauna and a sense of tranquility that cannot be matched by artificial means. And in these times of global warming they are sequesters of carbon. Their contribution to a stable climate cannot be underestimated.

The previous National Government did not see things this way and had a couple of attempts to rewrite the law so that protection for trees was lessened. The changes provided that District Plans could no longer have tree protection rules applying to urban properties unless the tree or group of trees were specifically identified in the plan. The result was that an increasing number of significant urban trees have been felled over the past decade.

Previously Waitakere Council 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 district plan rules.

The justification was that the rules provided too much red tape for homeowners and they should be allowed to do what they want.

There was some litigation about the changes. Auckland 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 attempt at making changes.

When the second bill was being considered I went to the select committee hearing. I posted earlier about the experience when I 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.”

With the change of Government there has been a change of thinking. David Parker’s rewriting of Resource Management law has given the Government an opportunity to reconsider the existing law.

The Natural and Built Environment Bill, part of the legislation replacing the RMA, contained an initial proposal to modify the existing restrictions rather than remove them.

The Government proposed a complicated arrangement whereby a level of tree protection could be returned by way of a National Policy Framework declaration. This would however make the level of protection of trees subject to Ministerial whim. A change of Government and an unsympathetic Minister could see the problem return.

There was a second issue. The proposed general limitation in the original bill could conceivably affect all trees including those in significant ecological areas which are currently protected.

The local board made submissions on the latest bill.

We suggested allowing Councils general power to set their own tree protection rules provides the best solution. This could be augmented by minimum standards set out in the National Policy Framework but Councils should be allowed to set local minimum standards of protection.

Our proposal was to go back to the previous system and delete the restrictions on Councils being able to include blanket tree protection rules.

After events earlier this year the benefit of trees has never been clearer. They assist with stability and water retention, two features that are really important as this year’s events have shown. Without the area’s tree cover things would have been dramatically worse.

I am pleased to advise that in the latest version of the bill, which is going through committee stages right now, the restrictions on tree protection rules have been removed. As noted by the select committee:

Clause 125 would restrict the ability for plans to contain rules relating to tree protection. It would require that trees can only be protected in a plan if the tree, or group of trees, is described and located by site. We recommend deleting clause 125. We think that trees should be managed through plans, with the [National Policy Framework] providing direction as required. We have recommended amending clause 58 to require the NPF to provide direction on protecting urban trees.

The Government is clearly intent on passing the bill within the next couple of weeks and this would be good news.

But there are a couple of problems. A change of Government would I suspect see National and Act try to reverse this aspect of the bill very quickly. They are indifferent to the immense value of trees and supportive of some extreme view of individual rights that would see us all suffer.

And Unitary Plan changes in Auckland will be required and this could take time. And there could be a stampede of urban trees being felled as any protection approaches.

But the good news is that the laws of New Zealand are in the process of being amended to provide better protection of urban trees. So they can continue to perform their important roles of stabilising slopes, providing shelter for native fauna, and providing amenity.

And sequestering carbon. Reprinted from gregpresland.com

12 comments on “Tree protection for urban trees to be restored ”

  1. RP Mcmurphy 1

    about bloody time. councils always seem to bend over when it comes to slaughtering trees. time to bring local government up short and make them realise trees are assets and not nuisances. this is not a left/right question but more about long term survival in the face of severe chainsaw attacks by noo noo heads!

  2. PsyclingLeft.Always 2

    National and Act try to reverse this aspect of the bill very quickly. They are indifferent to the immense value of trees and supportive of some extreme view of individual rights that would see us all suffer.

    That is "one" of my fears of NAct in power. Development first always….Conservation, somewhere near last.

    So many reasons NAct are just…wrong.

    The benefits of having trees are many and varied.

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/the-detail/story/2018881262/putting-trees-back-into-the-urban-jungle

    Why urban trees are worth fighting for

    https://www.newsroom.co.nz/why-urban-trees-are-worth-fighting-for

    Also a Sponge City ReThink….could have helped Auckland avoid some of the flooding/erosion carnage..

    https://thespinoff.co.nz/science/31-01-2023/stormwater-reform-wont-be-enough-we-need-a-sponge-city-to-avoid-future-disasters

    And…props to you MS for speaking at the select committee hearing !

    Walking the talk…very much needed.

  3. Sensability 3

    While all this woffle is going on about whether or not trees "deserve" to be saved, Auckland Council, in partnership with Tupuna Maunga Authority (TMA), plans to cut down over 2,500 mature carbon sequestering trees across Auckland's volcanic cones (Maungas). This destruction has already begun, most recently on Mt Richmond where 60 mature trees, including a stunning 80+ year old Morton Bay fig, were destroyed and chipped for no reason other than they were "non native". The TMA's promise to "coat the maungas in native forest" has so far resulted in little more than plantings of flaxes and tee tree. Ironically, by destroying these mature "non natives" the healthy regenerating natives protected beneath their canopy, were also destroyed, as was the the habitat that would allow natural regeneration. Our so called "leaders" are on the wrong side of history.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    My old man was of a generation that was constantly at war with nature. Lawns needed to be neat and short, edges trimmed, fences properly marched towards the horizon with the rigidity of a Prussian army on parade. An old steel 44 gallon drum in the back yard saw second service as an incinerator that burned everything from plastic to garden waste monthly. Deciduous trees which shed their foliage in Autumn were (I assume) seen as a metaphor for the fall from grace and expulsion from the garden of Eden, and were to be ruthlessly expunged from the landscape around the house. Roots were an anathema, pushing up as they did through orderly concrete footpaths and roadways. Those trees were the worst of all, for they put the rates up. And oh, woe betide anyone who dared to have the audacity to try and tell my father what he could and couldn’t do on his property!

    Both my parents are dead now, residing under the pleasingly manicured lawns of an immaculately kept cemetery, and thank goodness for that I couldn't deal with the ghostly complaining that would occur otherwise.

    But that kind of thinking still pervades councils, which unfortunately are the last refuge of a voting majority from my parents generation. Nature is an enemy, to be tamed, contained and exploited for profit. For a generation only once or twice removed from the people who transformed our landscape into a giant outdoor factory & 1/4 acre suburban sections the idea of an aesthetic to be derived from nature would be puzzling, as would the idea the nature needs to exist for its own sake. Keeping the rates down and the riff raff out of their suburb is all that matters.

    National is also still the home of that sort of thinking, the philistine mindset of the colonist who has come to impose himself on the land, to make his fortune, to extract from the land all the wealth there is to be extracted. The sanctity of private property and private profit exceeds the aesthetic of a view, or of the right of a magnificient tree to stand mightily where it has stood for 200 years, to cool passersby in summer and to shelter from in inclement weather all who may seek succour under it.

    We need to protect our trees, our vistas, and our overgrown and wild places simply because they have an intrinsic right to exist, and are beautiful to behold in both the general and the particular.

    • Kat 4.1

      Add to that the notion that houses and sections are investments not homes, The wealth of a suburb is measured in property values and how good the landscaping is. Trees take second place to views according to real estate agents.

  5. arkie 5

    “It has been said that the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is today. The same is true for conservation. The best time to conserve the habitat necessary for our wildlife would have been 50 or 100 years ago. The second best time is now.”

    Jean Chretien, March 1969

    • Thinker 5.1

      (If the best time to plant was 30 years ago, the second best time would have been 29 years and 364 days ago. Today would be nearly 11,000 down the list…)

      In Avondale, Auckland, several trees that were heritage listed were cut down due to interpretations of what was allowable under the rules.

      New legislation would be really good. Real problem is a changing culture in politics, IMHO. Historically, some public bodies were pretty arrogant in their dealings with the public. Later, during the 80s, 90s and 00s (say), there was a real move to make public organisations truly accountable to the public.

      More recently, and admittedly this is just my perception, I believe there's a growing arrogance, of senior managers putting their own egos or social choices before the greater good. We need to deal with that as much as creating the new legislation.

      As I write this, the current government has announced new harbour crossings in both road and light rail. Luxon's said National agrees with just the roads, but not the light rail. Is that really a decision based on what's good for the wider community, or just ideology? Neoliberalism has had nearly 40 years for the trickle-down effects to come to pass. If anything, the gap between rich and poor has got bigger and there's plenty of support for it being a flawed ideology (e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/14/the-fatal-flaw-of-neoliberalism-its-bad-economics). National and ACT just carry on like it's the 1980s.

      Collectively, we need to call for better from our elected officials on both sides of the divide.

  6. Shanreagh 6

    Thanks Mickey.

    This is one of my favourite pieces of thought on trees in the urban area.

    It is from the IUCN

    https://iucnurbanalliance.org/promoting-health-and-wellbeing-through-urban-forests-introducing-the-3-30-300-rule/

    https://nbsi.eu/the-3-30-300-rule/

    We could extend/amend this to cater for specific needs in NZ ie preventing erosion etc.

    Coming from the idea that 'a tree is a tree, is a tree (after Gertrude Stein) I also don't subscribe to the view that all non natives should be removed, and especially not wholesale.

  7. Ad 7

    It's going to be a mighty race to get this through in the remaining sitting days. Parker needs to plan for Urgency now.

    • Craig H 7.1

      I'm sure Robertson has planned out the required urgency already as Leader of the House, but it does seem likely that there will be some.

  8. newsense 8

    Why has this taken so long? Surely this is day one stuff? It’s nice to know Labour has some principles, but why the wait?

    We don’t understand I think how important trees are to making our summer wonderful. Especially as things get hotter. Cities without trees have people hiding in their houses with the windows shut and the AC going. Not at all the kiwi way.

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