Is preserving a pohutukawa pathetically politically correct?

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By Greg Presland

This is the description that Leighton Smith gave the Waitakere Ranges Local Board for its decision to try and preserve Piha’s Pohutukawa tree.  But he misses the point.

To recap, in an extraordinarily short time and without giving any notice to local residents Auckland Council managed to obtain a resource consent to cut a major branch of a prominent Pohutukawa tree.  The documentation indicated that this was an initial application and that a further application would be made to fell the tree in due course.  The proposed cutting did not accord with arborial practice and so a resource consent was required.  The application broke all sorts of records by being granted in 8 days.  No public notice of the application was given.  It was then that the local residents found out and after a sustained lobbying campaign the decision was referred to the local board for its input.  The Board has decided to delay a decision and invite Auckland Transport to consider alternatives.  Auckland Transport have indicated they will comply with this and for now at least the Tree is safe.

Various issues have arisen.  Firstly the legal situation to me is not clear.  Auckland Council owns the Pohutukawa and although Auckland Transport has the right to control and manage the transport network I am not sure this replaces the need to seek Auckland Council permission or at least canvas it for its views before engaging in the removal of trees or at least the major surgery of trees.  After all as owner it must be an affected person within the provisions of the Resource Management Act 1991 and unless there is a clear delegation I believe that its view of the application should have been sought.  And why shouldn’t it as owner be permitted the final say?  Otherwise Auckland Transport could significantly affect the canopy cover provided by Pohutukawa in Piha in the pursuit of a more efficient and effective transport system.  So either as an owner Auckland Council’s permission should have been sought or as an affected party its consent should have been sought.  This is to my view a legally gray area for which some clarification is necessary.

Secondly out west there is a proud history of community involvement in Council activity.  There is also an unbending passion for environmental protection and Council cuts down trees, especially the iconic ones, at its peril.  There is a strong belief that these decisions should be consulted on.  Much of the shock that resulted was caused because the locals were not told beforehand and it was presented to them as a fait accompli.

The outcry was instantaneous and considerable.  Auckland Transport consulted with the local board and because of the significance of the decision it was decided that it should be put on a public agenda and the public should be entitled to have a say.  The Board had five empassioned submissions made for protection and one against.  A number of emails were also received.  If a KASM meeting had not also been scheduled that night in Piha I am sure more people would have attended.

The issue is not yet resolved.  Auckland Transport may come back and state that alternatives are too expensive and they still wish to cut the tree.

But I think that a simple and cost effective solution can be found.  Removal of the fence immediately next to the tree would be a start.  People could then walk on the road around the offending limb.

And one idea that really appealed to me was to in a sensitive undamaging way affix a bright yet natural sign saying “duck!” to the branch of the tree.  Such a sign was presented to the Board.

It is a shame alternatives were not considered earlier.  It could have saved Auckland Council $12,000 if this had been done instead.

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