Neighbours should plant their own trees

January 18th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A man who has battled Auckland officials for 10 years for the go-ahead to remove a dangerous norfolk pine is amazed a similar tree is being felled without permission.

Paul Walker has been rejected twice for resource consent to cut down the scheduled tree in his Otahuhu front yard, and is now appealing to the Environment Court.

Several large branches have blown off the tree and landed near the Station Road house.

One also fell on the footpath in front of the property, while cones from the norfolk pine have smashed roof tiles.

The moment branches are coming off and hitting the house, the owner should be able to trim or fell the tree.

However the independent commissioners assessing his latest resource consent application last year said removing the tree would have “an adverse effect on visual amenity within the neighbourhood”.

The neighbourhood can plant their own trees if they want.

Should not need to go to court to fell a dangerous tree

January 13th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Environment Court has refused an Auckland man’s application to remove a huge tree from his heritage property Valhalla because of a legal technicality – despite it presenting an “undeniable presence of risk to human life”, according to a judge.

The tree has caused thousands of dollars of damage, including branches spearing through the home’s roof during a storm, narrowly missing people inside.

Auckland Council last night seemingly contradicted the ruling, saying it would not prosecute if the tree was removed because of the risk it posed.

The Norfolk pine, on James Gilderdale’s $1.1 million Heritage NZ-listed property in Woodward Rd, Mt Albert is protected because it is listed as a notable tree on the district plan and one of a neighbouring pair, each estimated to be 39m tall.

It is good the Council are saying they won’t prosecute, but it is wrong that he even has to go to court to get permission to remove the tree. The law should allow a home owner to remove a tree which poses a danger to human life.

In 2015, a branch estimated to weigh 80kg was blown down and missed hitting the applicant by only 2m. “The insurers have understandably threatened to review the availability of cover.”

So he has been almost killed by the tree, and risks losing insurance for the house – yet still can not legally fell the tree. Ridiculous.

UPDATE: The tree is being felled. The poor owner has been trying since 2014 to get permission!

The kauri tree that keeps getting older

December 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The group protecting an ancient West Auckland kauri tree say it was attacked early on Wednesday morning.

The Titirangi tree, which experts say is impossible to age accurately but could be up to 600 years old, was at the centre of a protest in March after it and a 300-year-old rimu were about to be felled to make way for two houses.

On December 11 at dawn, protester and arborist Johno Smith climbed into the canopy of the ancient kauri on Paturoa Rd after attempts were again made to chop it down. He has remained there ever since.

But early on Wednesday, Smith reported noise below and saw eight people, who he believed were security guards, cutting the tree with chainsaws while he was still in it.

The Save our Kauri group said neighbours tried to stop the men but were too late to stop them ring barking the tree.

Save our Kauri spokeswoman Aprilanne Bonar said it was a vengeful action and the perpetrators needed to be “brought to justice”.

The three belongs to the owners. They have permission from the Council to fell it. So long as the ring barking was agreed to by the owners, the only people who need to be brought to justice as the trespassers.

If they want to save the tree, they should but the land it is on.

But anyway do you note how the tree is now magically up to 600 years old. Previously they only claimed it was 500 years old.  But actually Auckland Council has said several arborists have said it is 150 to 200 years old – making it no different to probably tens of thousands of trees.

The media just report the claims of 600 without scrutiny.

The other side of the kauri tree issue

March 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale blogged an e-mail from an Auckland Council manager which gives us a lot of information that we never got through the media:

From: Julie Bevan
Sent: Monday, 16 March 2015 5:02 p.m.
To: GRP AC Resource Consenting – All Resource Consenting
Subject: Information about kauri tree issue last week

Dear all

 Most of you will have seen or read the media coverage on the issue of the kauri tree at Paturoa Rd in Titirangi last week, in which the decision to give consent to fell the tree to clear a building platform was hotly debated. As always, a lot of context and accurate information was missing. Here’s a summary of what happened:

Two resource consents were granted by Independent Commissioners for the construction of two houses on adjoining sites in Titirangi. The sites are bush-clad and are zoned Bush  Living – which is a residential zoning in the Waitakere section of the District Plan.  It is also a Significant Ecological Area under the Unitary Plan and the removal of vegetation and trees for an access way and building platform is provided for within this overlay.

When the consent application involving the section with the kauri tree was processed, the council had communication with the local board and received the opinion of two separate arborists, ecologists, a landscape architect and an engineer. The applicant contacted iwi. Careful consideration was given to a range of options for locating the building platform that would cause the least impact on the bush, and ensuring the shortest driveway to minimise effects, etc.  

The final proposal placed the house close to the road, leaving a large area of trees and bush undisturbed at the rear of the section, allowing a “green corridor”along the rear of a number of properties which preserved the habitat of birds and fauna. However, that did mean that a kauri tree closer to the front of the section would need to be cut down. This kauri tree is estimated by several arborists to be approximately 150-200 years old. There is no evidence to support the claim that the tree is 500 years old. There was a thorough assessment of options to retain the tree, but it has a lean on it and if it was left, it would be susceptible to wind effects, and would be so close to the house it would be considered hazardous. 

There are two larger kauri trees at the road berm which will be retained, as well as other trees at the rear of the section, including an old Puriri tree.

After having considered all options, council presented its recommendation to an independent commissioner for a decision. The independent commissioner agreed with the council recommendation and the consent was granted subject to strict conditions around construction, including intensive monitoring during the building process. 

Another story appeared suggesting that a council staff member presented a report with a different recommendation – the reality is that an initial report, based on limited information presented by the applicant, did have a different recommendation. However, when our landscape architect assessed the comprehensive information given during the consenting process, the recommendation was changed. This recommendation was confirmed by the commissioner.

On Thursday last week, the Auckland Development Committee debated the issue and decided to have an independent review of the process. They wanted to make very clear this was not a revisitation of the decision, but rather a review of the communication process with iwi and Local Boards. The Mayor Len Brown, the Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, our COO Dean Kimpton and various councillors explicitly expressed their support of staff and acknowledged that balancing issues of development and environment is frequently challenging.

I would also like to express my support of staff at the Western office, especially our arborist Natalie Marsden, team leaders Matthew Wright and Lee ah Ken, business coordinator Michelle Tomkins and the unit manager David Oakhill. David has spent long hours last week in meetings, media briefings and councillor sessions discussing this consent. He has remained clear, calm and resilient in the face of significant pressure.

Our work often involves challenges and situations where there are differences of view and position. Our role is to carefully work through the relevant plans, processes and procedures in a professional and ethical way.

I thank you all for doing your job and for doing it well.

We will keep you informed as the review gets underway and I know if asked you will assist in any way.

Kind regards


So who suddenly decided the tree was 500 years old?

The poor owners submit

March 12th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Owners of the Titirangi site, John Lenihan and Jane Greensmith, have released an open letter stating they will not cut down the trees.

“Over the past few days we have been overwhelmed with the agendas of council, politicians, protesters, and so on.

“We were quite normally private people but now we have been dragged into being public figures.”

“Let the trees stay including the kauri which we have been calling 500, and the rimu called 300. It doesn’t matter how old they are as they now need to stay. Some other trees might have to go – this is the compromise bit, but let’s keep it to a minimum.”

This couple are the ones whose rights have been trampled on. They did nothing wrong, but ended up in the middle.

This is our Plan – Architects call it a design solution;

1. Let the trees stay including the Kauri which we have been calling 500, and the Rimu called 300. It doesn’t matter how old they are as they now need to stay. Some other trees might have to go – this is the compromise bit, but let’s keep it to a minimum.  Trees grow faster than you all think. Our wise elderly neighbor reckons the Kauri “500”  is only 70 years old like him.

The claim to be 500 years old seems dubious.

Saving the kauri?

March 11th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Protests have caused the Government to discuss a council decision allowing the destruction of old kauri and rimu trees. …

Yet Ms Barry said claims the kauri was up to 500 years old were not proved, and a PhD scholar said the tree was actually 100-200 years old.

The rimu was reportedly 300 years old.

I’m against blanket protection orders by Councils for thousands of trees. I support the current law which is a Council must pick out individual trees for protection if they are of very special value.

If the kauri is 500 years old, then I would say it should have been protected by the Council. However their failure to do so should not prevent the land owner from exercising his legal rights. If people want to save the kauri, they can buy the land back off the owner.

Labour MP and former party leader David Cunliffe offered to join Mr Tavares up the kauri.

That may increase the number of Labour MPs wishing to cut the tree down.

Tree prosecutions unwarranted

September 2nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kapiti Coast District Council’s prosecution of two elderly Otaki couples for trimming native trees was “inappropriate”, and “fell short of what was needed”, according to an independent review.

“The overall criminality was minimal,” the report, commissioned by the council from Wellington QC Richard Fowler, says.

“A mere warning would probably have been the most appropriate, or at worst an infringement notice.”

The council laid charges against Peter and Diana Standen, 77 and 74, and Keith and Lorraine McLeavey, 72 and 68, last year for modifying naturally occurring native trees on their properties. It withdrew them when an Environment Court judge dismissed charges against the McLeaveys as “trivial offending”.

This was a Council at its zealous worse. Of course they should not have been prosecuted. In fact there shouldn’t even be any restrictions on what home owners can do with trees they own on their properties – unless the trees are of outstanding heritage value.

Unable to cut down his own dangerous tree!

June 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Every time the wind blows Craig Newth and his family worry what will happen to a 25 metre gum tree that towers over their house.

The Beach Haven, Auckland, resident says he doesn’t understand why the council won’t allow it to be removed.

Because they’re the Tree Police. Despite Parliament passing several laws, they regard all trees as belonging to them!

Newth says gum trees, also known as widow makers, are notorious for dropping limbs.

A council arborist, Vector worker and private arborist have all on separate occasions said the branches from the tree could injure someone and it should be removed, he says.

But when Newth approached the council they told him resource consent was needed and then declined it on more than one occasion.

You should not need resource consent to chop down your own tree, especially when it is a danger.

Adams blasts tree police

February 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Environment Minister Amy Adams has leapt to the defence of an elderly couple being prosecuted for felling and trimming native trees, saying the case shows why the Resource Management Act needs reform.

“Many RMA rules around the country have slipped into nonsense territory,” Adams said after The Dominion Post reported on environmentalists Peter Standen, 77, and wife Diana, 74, of Otaki, being taken to court by Kapiti Coast District Council for felling and trimming seven trees they believed were rotten and dangerous.

“This couple has spent a lot of time caring for their environment and gone to the effort of getting an arborist,” Adams said.

“We are not talking about some yob with a chainsaw with a tree he did not like. They got a specialist saying they were dangerous… it appears so eminently sensible… the outcome seems ridiculous.

“Trees, indigenous or not, get old, diseased, die, can be dangerous. We are talking about a 70-year-old couple dealing with vegetation in their own backyard. Do we need a council to get so uppity about what seems like a very sensible reaction?”

She supported the right of councils to identify and protect significant trees but “blanket prohibition on every piece of vegetation of a certain sort with no allowances, exceptions, or recognition that people have the fundamental right to deal with their own property in a certain way is getting a bit crazy”.

More than a bit. Thankfully the law has now changed so such rules will be gone by September 2015. But that law change was opposed vigorously by Labour and Greens. They think property owners should have no rights over the trees on their property – that basically Councils can effectively take control of every tree in an area.

The Kapiti tree police

February 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A pair of elderly environmentalists are being taken to court for felling and trimming native trees they believed were rotten and dangerous.

So did this couple stroll onto public land and start felling trees?

Last year they employed an arborist to clean up what they called “a mass of tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees” in a stand of bush on their newly bought property in Oriwa Cres.

The work included felling and trimming three kohekohe, three tawa and a mahoe.

So it was their tree on their property.

They have been summoned to appear in Levin District Court next week, charged with contravening the District Plan by “modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation” more than four metres tall and with a trunk circumference of more than 95cm.

The maximum penalty, under the Resource Management Act, is two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The problem is that the rule exists. Councils should not be interfering with what people do with their trees on their land unless the trees are of some special distinction.

At one point, the council sent a uniformed police officer to their house with a search warrant, accompanied by an ecological specialist.

Were they searching for kidnapped trees?

Wellington City Council has no rules regarding trimming native trees on private property. It is up to the owners.

As it should be.

UPDATE: Law changes made last year (and in 2009) mean these sort of idiotic rules will soon be illegal. Councils can no longer make blanket tree protection bylaws.  There is a two year transitional period, which means their legacy rules still apply until Sep 2015, but after that property owners will not need to ask Councils for permission to trim or fell their own trees – unless a specific tree or group of trees has been identified as requiring protection..

They are not your trees!

March 2nd, 2013 at 8:53 am by David Farrar

David Cunliffe blogs at Red Alert:

Resolve is building to save our trees

Resolve is really building in West Auckland to stop National’s chainsaw massacre in the Waitakere Ranges.

Te Atatū Labour MP Phil Twyford, Labour’s Environment spokesperson Maryan Street, Councillors, Local Board representatives and ratepayers groups are all backing the community’s determination to save our trees – which together we surely will.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again every time this misinformation is promulgated.


There has been absolutely no change in laws around trees on public or Council land.

The law change is around whether a home owner can trim or fell a tree that they own on their property.

And the law still allows Councils to protect individual trees of high value. What the law change does is stop Councils from doing blanket protection orders.

The misinformation and misleading language used on this issue is deliberate. The vast majority of the public don’t want to have to pay hundreds of dollars to Councils just for permission to trim their own trees.

First they came for the trees …

February 16th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Browning blogs on trees:

I want you – the 87 percent of you who live in a city or town in New Zealand – to have a think about trees. What do trees mean to you?

Shade on a baking day like today; pretty light on your lawn in the mornings? Nesting and perching space for the morning chorus and their babies? Some light entertainment? – drunk tui, chattery fantail, those solemn kereru clowns? Your kids and kittens climbing, swinging; kids playing cricket underneath? Privacy from noisy or nosy neighbours; a shield from next door’s ugly house, or the road? Shelter from blustering winds? Ringing the changes from autumn, through winter, to spring?

I agree. Trees are great. That is so many of us like to have trees on our properties. And I love public areas with lots of trees.

All of that under threat, and you’re being misled about it: the government’s latest proposal to take an axe to urban trees is described in the explanatory note to the Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 as a “technical change”, to “clarify and improve the workability of the RMA”.

In the Bill (clause 12), the RMA would be changed so that a tree protection rule in a council plan can only apply to a particular tree, or a group (cluster, line or grove) of trees on the same or adjacent properties, listed in the plan.

If it proceeds, many fewer trees will be protected, because of the bureaucratic difficulty and cost of individually assessing and adding every tree to the plan, in a schedule.

Claire, like so many others, fails to mention the salient point.

There are no plans for anyone to axe urban trees in public places.  If anything, I am sure Councils will have more trees, not fewer trees.

The law change is about the rights of property owners to trim or cut trees THAT THEY OWN on THEIR LAND.

It can cost a property owner hundreds of dollars to get bureaucratic permission to trim their own trees. It’s ridiculous and in fact will discourage people from planting trees.

The law change still allows Council to protect individual trees that have significant heritage or conservation value. But what it will stop is Council bureaucrats declaring all trees of a certain type belong to them, rather than their owners, and the owners must pay large fees to the Council for the right to trim their own trees.

Not public trees

May 5th, 2010 at 8:26 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aucklanders hoping to save a favourite tree from being chopped when the law changes in 2012 could face a $20,000 bill.

A planning report for Auckland City Council estimated that as the cost of adding a single pohutukawa in Epsom to its list of protected trees.

In another case, the Tree Council (Auckland) was told it would have to pay an $11,000 deposit to try for a private plan change to protect an 80 to 100-year-old pohutukawa in Rosebank Rd, Avondale.

The story is accompanied with a photo of a tree in a park next to a beach. This gives the impression that tress in public parks and areas are under some sort of threat.

Not once in the article is it made clear that these potential costs are around trees on private land. It is the cost of trying to impose your will onto the tree owner.

Under the old law the tree owner had to pay the Council for the right to trim or fell his or her own trees on their private property. Now the cost falls on the busy bodies who want to prevent a property owner from trimming or felling a tree they own. That is how it should be.

It is a shame the Herald article not once makes it clear this change is about trees on private land only, not on public land.

Great column on trees

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

Graeme Platt is an ecologist and sums up the trees issue:

The fundamental provocateurs in the conflict are entirely those who possess no trees, 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 RMA 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.

NZ Herald on trees

September 9th, 2009 at 9:19 am by David Farrar

A Herald editorial:

Tree protectors have done their case no favours by fudging the issue on which they object to one of the Government’s imminent changes to the Resource Management Act. They have implied that trees in parks and coastal reserves are at risk. They are not. The Resource Management Amendment Bill specifically protects trees on public reserves. The real issue is the protection of urban trees on private property.

In other words trees owned by a homeowner, that are on a homeowner’s property.

Indeed, well-established trees may be valued more highly by the neighbourhood than by the latest owner of the property. It has therefore been deemed reasonable that the property owner should need the consent of the community’s representatives before destroying a feature of its skyline.

What the Herald overlooks though is that people will not plant trees as much, if they need the “community’s consent” to trim or fell it in future.

Rules governing the urban environment should be left for local councils to decide. The Government is grossly overstepping its responsibilities. The Prime Minister says we are “not going to see some sort of chainsaw massacre – councils can protect trees through individual notifications.” If he believes that, he is dreaming. When he wakes up, he will wonder where all the foliage has gone.

Every other local body in New Zealand, except those in Auckland, manages fine without blanket protection orders.

The reality is that eventually most applications to trim or fell get granted anyway – 98% is the figure I have read. So getting rid of the blanket rule will mean they can trim or fell their own trees without the not inconsiderable cost and delays.

For the 2% that were not given consent, they can be listed individually.

Silly justifications for tree law

September 7th, 2009 at 6:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Homeowners whose trees are illegally chopped down by neighbours will no longer be able to count on council help once a proposed law change likely to become final this week is passed.

What is not made clear is that only if the tree was protected, would the Council get involved anyway. And personalyl it is inane to try and justify a law that prevents a homeowner from trimming or felling their own trees, on the grounds that by banning homeowners from being able to fell their own trees, you also ban neighbours from felling your trees.

If there really is a problem with legions of neighbours sneaking onto properties in the middle of the night and chopping down trees, then deal with that problem directly – don’t pretend that the current law which imposes significant costs on homeowners with “protected” trees is the answer.

During a recent subdivision case, the Environment Court had accepted evidence that “quite a number” of people illegally chopped trees on someone else’s land to improve their views and/or sunlight, she said.

But few prosecutions were made because it was often difficult to prove who had done it “even when it was clear who would havebenefited”.

And in fact we find out that the number of times this law has actually helped a homeowner against tree cutting neighbours is so low you can probably count on one hand.

While the number of homeowners who have had to spend both money and time on getting permission to trim or chop their own trees is well into the thousands as I understand it – maybe tens of thousands.