By Greg Presland
The Local Government and Environment Committee has heard submissions on the Resource Management Reform Bill and has reported the Bill back to Parliament. Regrettably the blanket removal of tree protection is maintained and if enacted the blanket protection of trees in Titirangi and Laingholm will be no more.
I blogged previously about the Resource Management Reform Bill and the threat it poses to Titirangi’s trees. The bill proposes the removal of blanket tree protection and for a Titirangi Tree to be protected it, or a group of trees that it is in, will have to be specifically identified in a schedule to the District Plan. The current tree protection rules would be gone and the fear would be that the day after the rules were removed a chorus of chainsaws would be heard in the valleys of Titirangi and the area would be gradually but fundamentally changed.
“Submitters on this part of the bill, such as the Tree Council and the Environmental Defence Society, explained how the felling of one tree in parts of West Auckland where there are tree-clad hills and steep terrain can affect another adjacent property by virtue of the stabilising properties of tree roots. This was a very good example not simply of the amenity value of trees in the urban environment, but of their intrinsic worth for drainage, moisture absorption, and ground stability, as well as the interdependence of properties adjacent to each other.
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.”
“The bill compromises urban amenity by its making it much harder for councils to protect and control the loss of urban trees. The bill will effectively allow landowners to trim or fell any urban trees with no need for a resource consent, unless the trees are individually described and their location legally identified in a plan schedule. It overturns a 2010 Environment Court decision which upheld councils’ ability under section 76 of the RMA to have general plan rules which required a resource consent to, for example, fell or trim urban trees of a particular species (such as coastal pohutukawa) or above a height or girth threshold.
Many submitters including the Tree Council, the Auckland Council, and the Environmental Defence Society strongly opposed the bill’s ban on general tree protection rules and the changes to section 76 of the RMA. Submitters said that trees help create a liveable city and are a community asset not just an individual property right. They highlighted the loss of mature and amenity trees which would result from the change, especially in Auckland given current development pressures. They variously said the requirement to schedule all trees deserving protection would be “costly and impractical,” “onerous and unworkable,” and “involve huge amounts of time and resources.” The Green Party agrees.”