Great column on trees

September 10th, 2009 at 9:07 am by David Farrar

is an ecologist and sums up the trees issue:

The fundamental provocateurs in the conflict are entirely those who possess no , imposing their will on people who do. Responsible property owners deeply resent being patronised with edicts on how they should manage their personal tree assets to support the nebulous concept of the common good.

Hear hear.

It’s vital to be aware that a blend of diligent toil by six generations of dedicated Auckland landowners, and the city’s unique maritime climate, have combined to create one of the most diverse collections of trees to be found anywhere on earth.

Auckland’s leafy suburbs constitute a sprawling world-class botanical garden and unique urban forest. The climate of Auckland is a convergence of tropical and temperate elements that allow a wide range of trees to grow together in a way rarely, if ever, encountered elsewhere.

Auckland’s spectacular urban forest of shady trees was created in an atmosphere of complete freedom, unhindered by the slightest hint of bureaucratic dictate and compliance. Generations of landowners and Auckland gardeners were free to grow whatever tree they wanted, wherever they wanted, and manage them as they saw fit.

An era of freedom soon to return.

Regardless of its noble intent, the introduction of laws to control the rights of landowners and the gardening public was fundamentally flawed, to such an extent that it all but killed overnight the market for large shady trees in the nursery trade. Once landowners and gardeners lost the freedom to manage their trees, people ceased planting them. It is now nearly two decades since the demand for large shade-producing trees was destroyed by regulation, with disastrous effect on the on-going development of the city’s urban tree asset.

It is a classic case of unintended consequences. By aiming to “protect” trees, they have driven homeowners away from planting trees.

The good news is the reforms passed their third reading last night. Labour battled for the right of the tree stasi, but to their credit did vote for the overall package at third reading. Only Greens and Maori Party voted against.

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40 Responses to “Great column on trees”

  1. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,065 comments) says:

    The fundamental provocateurs in the conflict are entirely those who possess no trees, imposing their will on people who do

    Er . . . what?

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  2. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    All piss in the wind when National supports Carbon trading.

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  3. gravedodger (1,516 comments) says:

    Kudos times 100 to Graeme Platt, Give that man one doz DB unless he appreciates good beer , then ask him what he would like.

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  4. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    Danyl – I think he is referring to apartment dwelling greenies who have no section, no trees and no idea.

    The whole thing about ‘tree protection’ was a solution looking for a problem.

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  5. unaha-closp (1,112 comments) says:

    Making the cost of tree ownership really expensive reduces the demand for trees?

    Wow.[/sarc]

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  6. alex Masterley (1,490 comments) says:

    All I can say is yahoo!

    Two reasons,

    1.I can now trim two trees on my property that otherwise I would have needed to obtain consents for. And no, that doesn’t mean they will be trimmed to ground level as they form part of a hedge facing a main road.
    2. Cost savings both from the ACC persepective and a ratepayers perspective as people who used to to this work are redeployed to more useful areas of endeavour.

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  7. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Here in the waikato/BOP we have lost some of the best nurseries who have closed due to “Town owners are not planting tress any more”. There are several reasons – -they dont know what to plant so just go buy any old thing at places like the warehouse or palmers – (who both sell plants that are hormone treated just before sale so tht they flower but it kills them in about 6 months) and being close to Auckland and the growth of the PC/nanny state, they see the possible costs of tree ownership (as per auckland) and have decided not to take the risk.

    The tree business will live to regret the loss of people like caves nursery near Cambridge and cheddar valley nursery near whakatane (- who both produced some seriously interesting new and some classic old trees. No doubt their are others. They both closed due to a continued drop in demand)

    As Platt says – the trees in auckland got there when there were no stupid restrictions on what owners could do with them.

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  8. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    I think that is a good point barry. Groups like Stop the Chop are making statements that imply this change in law will see the the chainsaws buzzing and clear felling throughout the urban areas of the country. They are, bascially, fucking morons. We cut down a 45m tree on our Lower Hutt property because it was blocking sun causing darkness, damp and mould, clogging our gutters (and the neighbours) and starting to affect our driveway and garage pad. We have also planted three lemon trees and a fig tree since then.

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  9. jocko (111 comments) says:

    When one of our elderly huge native trees split down the middle in a storm & was severely damaged causing risk to life and/or our garage/house if it fell further, the local Council refused permission to cut it down.
    Rather, following consultation with the local Iwi we were requested to prop the tree together (yes!), pour concrete into the middle (thereby probably killing it) & place metal bands in support around the trunk to help hold it up.
    I sought the name of the Council’s public liability and all risks Insurer/s and the name of the officer who knowingly was permitting a hazard to ‘life and limb’ to exist so I may advise our insurer accordingly.
    I advised the purpose was so they in turn would know immediately who to recover consequential property damage against and the responsible person to claim against for any injury/loss of life to any persons.
    The permit to cut down the tree arrived the next day.

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  10. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    So when my neighbour exercises his god given rights to fell trees and my house disappears down the side of the hill because the area is now unstable who do I sue?

    [DPF: Oh wait don't stop there. What if a tidal wave hits your house and the neighbour's trees are not there to stop it. This comment must qualify as the most desperate of the day]

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  11. Sean (299 comments) says:

    You sue your property developer because if all that was holding up your property was someone else’s tree, the developer was negligent.

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  12. CraigM (694 comments) says:

    “…………..area is now unstable who do I sue?”

    The idiot who built an unstable house on the side of a hill, or the moron that bought a house that was only viable because of trees on a cliff. Buyer beware, but personal responsibility isn’t a big issue for you is it.

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  13. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    Sean

    “You sue your property developer because if all that was holding up your property was someone else’s tree, the developer was negligent.”

    But he complied with the rules as they were at the time. Could he have forseen that an idiot future Government would remove protection of trees and inevitably cause instability problems? The people of Titirangi and Laingholm are now very nervous. They have built pole houses relying on trees to keep the area stable.

    We fell the trees at our peril. There is this big negative aspect to cutting trees that justifies the rules that National has now rescinded. I cannot believe how stupid they are.

    This is not an ideological argument, it is about basic planning and stopping landslips.

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  14. Chthoniid (2,028 comments) says:

    A few years back at a “Society for Conservation Biology” conference, I met up with a colleague from Auckland University (prominent conservationists and professor). We both agreed that under these blanket rules, we’d never buy a property that had large native trees, nor plant would we plant any.

    This was always a dumb policy. It was costly to property owners and it created incentives [I]not[/I] to plant so high, committed conservationist would not go there.

    We have a splendid contrast with the proliferation of tuis in many urban areas. This is a result of property-owners choosing for almost 20 years, to plant native trees that attracted native birds. There was no legislation or regulations to do this. Rather it was efforts for nurseries and other green organisations to encourage people- voluntarily- to choose species that attracted birds. Getting that ‘buyin’ from the public has made into a great conservation story.

    The take-home lesson, is it doesn’t matter where you are. Long term conservation of natural habitats ultimately depends on the buy-in of the people who are responsible for managing those habitats. If you piss them off, then conservation has to be imposed by people with guns (tiger reserves in Asia) or small armies of bureaucrats (Auckland). And that’s isn’t nearly as effective at having people do this voluntarily.

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  15. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    Clinton

    The way that you describe it Titirangi and Laingholm should be ghost towns. They are not, they are vibrant highly sought after areas and prices there are higher than just about anywhere else in Waitakere.

    THey even have special legislation to deal with (the Waiotakere Ranges Heritage Area Act) but this has not put people off buying there or living there.

    Do you have any hard evidence or is it all anecdotal from the readers of Kiwiblog?

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  16. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    mickeysavage – do you actually own a home perched on the edge of a cliff being held there by some trees on a neighbours property? If you do then you are a bigger moron than I originally thought. What if those trees got some tree disease and died? Your house would be just as at risk.

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  17. James (1,338 comments) says:

    Mickky…..piss off.Somewhere theres a bed missing it’s wet spot…

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  18. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    Brian

    If those trees die or get cut down by a moron then possibly half the houses in Titirangi and three quarters of the houses in Laingholm are in trouble.

    Natural disasters are one thing but human activity?

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  19. david (2,539 comments) says:

    Mickey, every tree has a use-by-date and most will die naturally when they get to a point where they have either exhausted the soils or cannot support their own limbs which break, split and allow disease to enter the core of the tree.

    Presumably you considered that when you purchased …. or were you hoping to pass a poison pill onto the next sucker who purchased your property when you sell. One way you are woefully ignorant , …. the other begs description but probably falls into the same category as Cullen and his train set.

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  20. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    Please tell me that when your expected disasters don’t befall half the houses in Titirangi or wherever you will shut the fuck up forever.

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  21. lasam (2 comments) says:

    Ok my first reply, I’ll give it a point and not be rude to others for a start.
    I agree its a good article but half of the article has not been talked of here. What do people think of the idea of perhaps having a environment tax that encourages keeping established trees and the planting of new trees, ie if you have no greenery you get taxed a bit more. I feel that some on here would find it amusing the the ‘apartment dwelling greenies’ would have to pay a tax for poor land management. I like the idea.
    Just to clarify a couple of comments on here in regards to the collapse of the nursery industry . It has nothing to do with the laws of Auckland, here are the main reasons for the collapse of the industry. i/ The first and most important reason is ERMA and MAFF as it is nearly impossible for small business to import plant material into this country due to either an outright ban on plant species( regardless of if its an infertile sub species or not) or the inaccessible costs (I really mean inaccessible costs) of importing and growing plant cells. ii/The huge mark up costs by the on-sellers( chain stores, garden stores etc). the next time you buy a plant the price is usually at a minimum 112.5% mark up form what the grower has charged the store. Now take out the cost of production and transport and the grower is left with either very little or no return. iii/ The nursery sector has very few young people in it mainly due to point ii. Those that are retiring are not able to sell their business as a going concern due to a combination of all the points listed above. Please dont think for one second that the removal of this law will make any difference to the nursery industry. How do I know? Ive worked in it for 15 years and been involved in hoticulture in generall for all the 33 years of my life, also I was looking at buying caves nursery so have done my homework.

    Everybody have a great day.

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  22. CraigM (694 comments) says:

    I can’t believe I’m giving the stupid argument oxygen but -

    Mickey, I would think that pretty much everyone who buys a house in a bush clad area does so because they like the bush, not in spite of it. If that is not the case then those people are morons and deserve to have their houses fall down.

    I have planted 50+ natives on my section over the past two years. (idiot I know, but I love the bush) Of the thousands of existing trees we have of varying heights, one of about 30m height is putting my house in danger. Despite our planting efforts, and the fact we hundreds of sqm of bush, I have not been allowed to trim or remove it. Unit now I hope. Yay. Common frikkin sense has prevailed.

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  23. unaha-closp (1,112 comments) says:

    The way that you describe it Titirangi and Laingholm should be ghost towns.

    Increasing the cost of using land by placing high incumberances upon existing trees does not make an area a “ghost town”. All it does is make the price of land more expensive and this acts as a barrier to poor people, which is a good thing apparently.

    They are not, they are vibrant highly sought after areas and prices there are higher than just about anywhere else in Waitakere.

    Case in point.

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  24. Chthoniid (2,028 comments) says:

    Okay, first of all, I don’t believe that the decision to property in Auckland is a binary one that reduces to whether or not there are large native trees on the property. Housing choice takes in a wide variety of parameters. It would be pretty moronic to infer I’m arguing that.

    Second, why is it that only you and Phool think my real name is Clinton?

    My point was that if you want to sustain over the long term, a range of native trees of different sizes and cohorts the most effective tool we have is voluntary compliance by land-owners. If you want to distort and discourage such a mosaic then, blanket restrictions will do so. That is why Platt notes the collapse of sales of large native trees in this area. It is why some pretty high-profile conservationists have opted not to plant or purchase properties with large trees in Auckland. The disincentives are obvious. You can’t force people to become conservationsists by threatening them with legal sanctions all the time.

    Keyboard conservationists like you and Phool don’t count.

    Now, as to the effects on slippage and subsidence, I would not be predicting a mass reduction in forested areas within Auckland. Rather, the majority of people will continue to manage trees on their property in an appropriate way (mirroring other areas of NZ where such blanket bans are not present).

    I think that you also place far too much emphasis on the role of trees at preventing slippages. NZ is a catastrophe-prone ecological system. Auckland is in the path of several subtropical cyclones every year. Some of these are still strong enough when they hit to do major damage to forested areas. It would be incredibly dumb to depend on the micro-forest systems planted on neighbouring properties to protect you from such damage.

    Preventng slippages will have a lot to do with controlling drainage from slops and shoring up areas of instability properly. The level of deforestation at the ecological micro-scale you are describing is not be a significant risk-factor.

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  25. david (2,539 comments) says:

    Wooohoooo, Mickey concedes that he prefers living in a high rent zone with trees and views and among an Urban Elite of people who can afford “above average prices”.

    Must be a rich prick eh?

    About time the State took some of it away Mickey so that they can redistribute the wealth and prop up Phool’s pointless existence I’d say.

    You’d be a philosophical starter for that wouldn’t you Mickey?

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  26. david (2,539 comments) says:

    Nah on second thoughts your house is probably “in a trust” Mickey to protect it from the rapacious redistributative State. right?

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  27. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    Lets face it, the pruning restriction laws in ACC were an example of pandering to nimbyism- people who wanted the benefits of living in an urban environment but the illusion that they were living in the bush. Problem is there is nothing native or natural about the vegetation that has been planted. Of course everyone overplanted and now those trees are creating havoc with the power lines, pipes, fences and restricting everybody else’s sunlight.
    Of course no-one wants to get landed with the costs of fixing those things, so we all pay in the long run we all pay for those nice tree lined suburbs in Central Auckland.

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  28. TMC (72 comments) says:

    “The people of Titirangi and Laingholm are now very nervous.”

    We are? For the record, I’m not. My neighbours aren’t either.

    And judging from the age of some of the houses in the area, we didn’t all creep in, carefully, only when all the trees were protected. “Is it safe yet, Mr Councilman?”

    The columnist is right. No one wants to plant a native anymore because of all the rules. Everyone lives in a paranoia about the natives. It’s ridiculous. That said, if you go through the hoops, you can get a native removed anyway. Just as Key said. I know this from personal experience. I’ve got a lovely wood pile of mostly Kahikatea.

    As a somewhat-related, funny aside, if Laingholm had a soundtrack, it would barking dogs and chainsaws. Come around this weekend. I guarantee you, that’s mostly what you’ll hear.

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  29. KiwiGreg (3,177 comments) says:

    We got resource consent to chop down a 8m pohutukawa that someone had planted so close it was damaging the house in 24 hours IIRC. Of course we then couldn’t get resource consent to renovate the house so it had to get chopped down as well (and it was quite a bit older than the tree).

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  30. OTGO (512 comments) says:

    Couple of years ago I decided to cut down a tree that had died (liquid amber I think) near our boundary. In the right weather conditions it could’ve blown over onto the road and caused an accident. So there I am chainsaw revving, safety glasses and earmuffs on cutting the thing down. After about 5 mins I have the feeling that someone was watching me so I looked up and there was this older man looking at me about 6 metres away. So I turn off the chainsaw, take off my muffs and ask him if I can help him. He says in an English accent, “do you have permit to cut down tree?”. I say, “none of your business besides it’s dead”. He says,”doesn’t matter you must have permit, I’m telling council, blah blah blah”. I say “if you don’t mind your own business you silly old coot I’ll follow you home and burn your house down”. An idle threat I know but it did the trick. I cut the tree down and he never bothered me again. I have some tree trimming to do come November, bet I don’t see the old Pommie this time.

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  31. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    DPF

    “So when my neighbour exercises his god given rights to fell trees and my house disappears down the side of the hill because the area is now unstable who do I sue?

    [DPF: Oh wait don't stop there. What if a tidal wave hits your house and the neighbour's trees are not there to stop it. This comment must qualify as the most desperate of the day]”

    Absolute rubbish. I do not have any control over a tidal wave. The Council did have control over the felling of trees. Why you would sacrifice what has been a significant tool in the maintaining of stability is beyond me.

    What next? Do we now allow those insisting of exercising their rights to dispose their stormwater by allowing it to flow into their neighbour’s property to do so? Stormwater is regulated for very good reasons. Trees were as well. Until Smith’s idelogical burp.

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  32. Chris Diack (723 comments) says:

    Mickey:

    As usual you are wrong.

    There is a common law recognised natural right of support of the land owed by adjoining landowners – this is unaffected by either the presence or removal of trees.

    There is no natural right of support for building by one landowner to another although a right under an easement may be created.

    The General Tree Protection rules have nothing to do with support of land or the improvements (buildings) on it.

    Mickey is at least consistent; he just makes things up.

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  33. Nil Einne (20 comments) says:

    I find it a bit ironic that people think this is going to reduce the amount of bureaucratic work for councils. All current evidence suggests it’s to the contrary at least initially. Currently a few Auckland councils rely on blanket orders to protect trees. The new law still allows them to protect trees, but they need to specify which ones. They also need to consult with the property owner. There’s no reason to presume these Auckland councils who have relied on blanket orders are going to suddenly decide there’s no need to protect trees. Far more likely, they will spend a lot more time looking at and working out which trees to protect and in due consultation with affected parties. Indeed it seems even likely initially there will be a significant increase in the workload i.e. more staff.

    Over the longer term things will probably settle down somewhat but there’s no reason to presume it’s going to be less then it is now. In fact I would say there’s good reason to think it will remain high, as councils keep adding to their list of protected trees as they become aware of new ones with all the resultant consultation and may be even court cases (since it does seem likely protection will become even more controversial among land owners when it becomes an individual thing). It’s true the amount of time spent on resource consents will be far less and the likelihood of the average person encountering this process is reduced.

    I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I can see both sides of this argument and think only time will truly tell. But it does emphasise the fact that if the reason you support this rule change is because you think it will result in councils spending less time on tree protection/bureaucracy you’re likely mistaken since as I’ve emphasised the law change doesn’t mean there will be less time spent on the bureaucracy. It will be just spent on different things and in fact there’s a good chance it will increase even in the long term. The only possibility is if the change on governance will result in tree protection being ignored.

    Because it’s important to remember one thing. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing in the current law which makes the new system unimplementable. If councils had wanted to, they could have themselves implemented what the new law requires. The new law just prevents councils (those Auckland councils who do it) from what they’re doing now, and requires them to do it in a certain way. Again this doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with that.

    But it’s important to remember that the reason why things are the way they are now is not because of central government per se, but that the councils decided to do things like this given the flexibility the current allows now. Perhaps it’s because they’re lazy, but more likely it’s because they genuinely felt it was in the interest of their council to do things this way, in other words, they felt this would ultimately get them more votes. Therefore there’s no reason to presume these councils are going to suddenly decide tree protection is worthless, in fact they will just step up the process.

    As I’ve said, councils may see the governance changes as an opportunity to ignore tree protection, suddenly they don’t have to worry so much about voters. But Nick Smith has said he’d ensure this doesn’t happen so if you trust him (I guess some people won’t) then this shouldn’t happen either.

    So what it all boils down to, is there’s no reason to believe the amount of bureaucratic work is going to be reduced.

    The other interesting thing is that most commentators appear to have completely ignored Graeme Platt’s other main point (some may even call it *the* main point given the title of the article) which is that he wants councils to provide incentives by converting part of the rates into a 25% environment tax which is exempted if property owners have “covenanted collections of mature trees and sound environmental landscaping, and those properties with carbon neutral status”. I’m not saying if you agree with part of his opinion article you have to agree with the whole thing.

    But since we’re discussing his opinion article, we should surely discuss the whole thing right, right? And as with the fact, as a number of commentators have mentioned, some prominent conservationists support his view on the problem with blanket protections, I think we can be sure a number of prominent conservationists support his view on an environment tax. So why aren’t we discussing this idea?

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  34. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    Chris Diack

    “There is a common law recognised natural right of support of the land owed by adjoining landowners – this is unaffected by either the presence or removal of trees.”

    Only a wanna be lawyer would use a legal analysis to decide on what is a physical phenomenon.

    For your assistance I will use as many words of one syllable as I can.

    If a person cuts trees that help hold a hill together then the person living next to them may watch their house disappear down the hill.

    The General Tree Protection rules intentionally or otherwise have resulted in the support of land.

    I am not making it up. Talk to any geologist or geographer.

    By the way how many cases have you won?

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  35. Nil Einne (20 comments) says:

    BTW I realised I forgot to mention, if you’re worried about bureaucracy think of what Platt’s second proposal will require…

    Also hopefully we can all agree that in the short term this will definitely result in a reduction in trees in Auckland (the places where blanket protections have been used). This should be obvious from the commentators here and elsewhere. It’s clear some people do want to cut down their trees but haven’t because they didn’t want to bother with resource consents. And a small number have tried but failed to get resource consents. (I would hope most of these trees are protected individually since it’s obvious someone has decided they are worth protecting, before January 1st 2012 but it’s likely some won’t.)

    If for example negotiations are still ongoing for a new government at the time and there’s a likelihood of a government that will change the law, or if Labour came close but didn’t manage to form a government and are still promising to change the law, I think we can be sure that there will be even more trees cut down. (Even from some who voted and will continue to vote Labour,) In the long term, more trees may be planted to make up for this loss, if Graeme Platt’s opinions are correct, but that’s a long term thing. In other words, if you are saying there won’t be less trees in the immediate aftermath of the law coming into effect you’re IMHO being dishonest or illogical. There may be no chainsaw massacre but there will obviously be more chainsaw (and hand saw and axe) action.

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  36. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    I just cut mine when I feel like it, saves the hassle of the whole consent process.

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  37. Nil Einne (20 comments) says:

    One final comment, I think the Herald editorial well worth a read http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10596043

    It mentions some of the points I mentioned. The will be more bureaucracy and more trees felled. It also mentions a fact I think Platt missed. Property owners views have changed not just because of the law but simply because a change in culture. Many people see trees as a problem because of blocking their views, clogging gutters, leaves, management required etc regardless of council rules. The modern day Auckland is not that of 30 years ago for reasons beyond different rules. Perhaps the rule change will help change the culture, but I for one think we need a lot more then just the rule change.

    Indeed on the points a number have made on nimbyism I think is relevant. It’s likely many property owners (and other rate payers) support protection, as long as they don’t encounter them personally. Quite a number of these probably have trees they won’t hesitate to cut down once the new law comes into affect, despite bemoaning the law change and loss of trees in general itself. Many of these aren’t any more likely to plant trees with the law being gone. They want trees, just not when they have to manage them and blanket protections have almost definitely been helping reduce the number of trees these sort of people cut down and not just people who do want trees on their property.

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  38. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    http://www.stihl.co.nz/Products/subcategory.cfm?iSubcategoryID=93

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  39. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    Screw the councils. As I said before, if they want to protect a tree let them buy the land it stands on. Councils should be responsible only for health and safety. Everything else is up to the property owner.

    Nil Einne is right about one thing, trees will be cut initially. Whether more are planted will depend on whether people are confident the next socialist empire won’t steal their property rights again.

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  40. Chris Diack (723 comments) says:

    Mickey

    Actually GPT is a legal rule not a matter of geology.

    How many tree hearings have you sat on?

    GTP has nothing to do with the stability of the land above – that is not its stated or otherwise purpose.

    GTP has not stopped land slippage; the removal of GTP will not cause it.

    But by all means keep digging yourself in.

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