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No More Scheduled Trees

Scheduled pohutukawa at Canal Road, Avondale. Credit: David Lockhart

Auckland Council’s Planning Committee voted on Thursday 5 November to abandon any idea of adding more trees to the Unitary Plan’s Schedule 10 Notable Trees “until resources allow” despite an appeal at the meeting by The Tree Council to prioritise this work that would cost less than $1m.

In a two hour debate that verged on farce Councillors appeared confused over the purpose of the Schedule, the rules for qualifying trees and, most disturbing of all, the cost of the work proposed - despite it being clearly laid out in the agenda report.

Auckland Council has already received 587 nominations for trees to be added to Schedule 10 since the Unitary Plan came into effect. Many of these nominations have been waiting for years to be processed. In each case the tree(s) concerned have passed the extremely high qualifying criteria for scheduling, which includes the agreement of the landowner. There is no interim protection for these trees, so they remain at risk of removal without consent until they are added to Schedule 10 via a plan change.

This work to add the 587 trees to the Schedule was costed in the agenda report at $871,000 and yet a number of the Councillors confused it with the additional work required to review and amend the current 6000 trees listed on the Schedule that was costed at $2.5m. Councillor Christine Fletcher moved an amendment to delay the decision, get clarity on the costings and review the prioritisation of this work, but she was not supported by the Chair Chris Darby or the majority of other Councillors and the amendment failed. This was despite Chair of the Finance Committee Desley Simpson agreeing that a delay was a good idea and reminding the Councillors that “there is always money, it’s just how you choose to prioritise it”.

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It was made very clear on Thursday that Auckland Council does not place any priority whatsoever on the most significant trees in the region and is not prepared to spend any of the public’s money to ensure their legal protection.

The Tree Council is appalled at the hypocrisy of this stance in the light of Council’s agreed policies both to protect and enhance tree cover in the region via the Urban Ngahere Strategy and to act to tackle climate change via the Climate Action Framework. Clearly these documents are not worth the paper they are written on if the protection of the largest and most significant trees in the region is not important.

“If Auckland Council cannot find $871k to finalise the legal protection of 587 of “the best of the best” trees in the region, then what hope is there for any other tree in this city?” said The Tree Council’s Chair Sean Freeman.

“The Councillors made it very clear today that they have no intention of taking the public’s concerns about tree protection seriously. Some of them seemed to have no idea what they were even voting on. Their behaviour was disgraceful.”

“This decision means that any tree not currently listed on the Schedule will not be protected and those 587 trees already nominated and qualifying will continue to have no interim protection and can be removed at any time. This is an appalling dereliction of duty by Auckland Council towards our urban forest. Ratepayers have nominated these incredibly significant trees in good faith - with the landowners approval - expecting them to be processed, added to the Schedule and protected. This will not now happen and may never happen. It is very likely that these trees will be destroyed before this decision is reviewed again by this Council.”

The Tree Council considers that Auckland Council is using the Covid crisis as an excuse to abandon planned work and ignore agreed policies when all that is actually necessary is a temporary deferment for a year until the next budget is determined. Shame on them.

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