By Greg Presland
The Government in 2009 through changes to the Resource Management Act attempted to remove blanket tree protection rules in district plans. The language used was not clear but the intent was that any tree on an urban section with a building and reticulated water and sewerage could be felled unless it was identified in a district plan.
The then suggested changes could have affected bush clad areas such as Titirangi and Laingholm significantly. The areas are deemed stability sensitive and the trees and bush cover play a major role in holding banks together and preventing erosion. Without the trees the area’s stability would be severely compromised. Allowing felling without restriction would have resulted in a gradual but inevitable change to the area’s bush coverage.
Following enactment of the changes the previous Waitakere City sought a declaration about the effects of the changes and asked the Environment Court if trees identified in the District Plan as being within the Bush Living Environment fell within the definition of “groups of trees”. The Court said “yes” and gave some very helpful guidance on how to manage tree rules using the District Plan. The effect of the decision was to preserve the protection afforded to the bush clad areas by the existing District Plan rules.
It appears that the Government does not like this and is moving to change the law to specifically overrule the effect of that decision as part of a reform package. If enacted the changes will clarify that a tree protection rule can only apply to a tree or group of trees that are specifically identified in a schedule to a district plan by street address or legal description of the land, and that a group of trees means a cluster, grove, or line of trees that are located on the same or adjacent allotments identified by precise location. The decision directly overrides the effect of the Environment Court declaration and is obviously aimed at it.
It is intended that species of trees can no longer be affected. For instance a rule that “all Kauri over the height of 2 metres living in Titirangi are protected” would not be allowed.
The provision is frankly bizarre. The RMA allows local communities to make all sorts of decisions about all sorts of matters. Yet it is intended a community in a tree clad area is not allowed to make protective rules about the things that give the area its character.
Trees are wonderful things. They give us shade and stability, character and calmness. They make Titirangi and Laingholm special places to live in. But if the Government has its way we will not be allowed to protect the items that make these areas so special.