A possible wholesale destruction of Auckland’s green areas could result if clauses 52 and 151 the government’s Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill goes through unchanged. The National-ACT Government is insisting that these clauses stay. I spoke at a meeting on Tuesday evening in Grey Lynn to a passionate group of about 200 people really concerned that trees will disappear from our urban environment. Anger and concern is growing as people start to understand the implications of what is coming.
Labour’s message is that we will work hard to change clauses 52 and 151, together with the Greens. But ultimately if the government insists on pushing them through, they have the majority to do so.
So what’s wrong with the Bill?
Clauses 52 and 151 of the bill remove rules that provide general tree protection in an urban area. Essentially councils will no longer be able to place a blanket ban on protecting trees as many councils currently do. In other words, currently trees are protected. If someone wants to fell a tree, they apply to the council for a consent to do it. Most consents are granted.
The Government claims the current system is too cumbersome and expensive. It wants to take the restrictions off trees. Instead it will schedule and protect individual trees.
There’s a whole lot wrong with that approach. First, communities should decide how they protect their environment. Why is central government stepping into legislate something that should be the prerogative of the local council? Isn’t this nanny state? Or more accurately ninny state, because it also doesn’t make any sense.
It will be very expensive and bureaucratic to protect trees individually – exactly what the Government wants to prevent. It doesn’t remove red tape, it just transfers it. More importantly it carries some serious risks.
- The government’s proposal will force council’s to list trees they want to protect. If a tree is not on this protected list, it can be chopped down with impunity.
- The natural character of the shoreline should be protected, for example. But much of that character involves the presence of trees that will no longer be protected. Our pohutukawas and other native trees on the coastline are most under threat from people wanting to improve their view.
- How will we decide which trees will be scheduled? Clearly this job will take time. In the meantime, there’s a strong risk that landowners will fell trees before they are put on the list, creating a rush to chop down trees in urban areas.
- There are real subsidence and erosion risks if tree cover is removed.
- Approvals for tree removal and pruning are often given currently on the condition that other trees are planted as a replacement. Will that continue to be the case? It’s less likely for sure.
- Large ancient trees are community assets, not just those on an individual’s property. They have often been there for hundreds of years. When it is requested that a tree be removed, there needs to be a wider say about the loss of amenities, shade, ecological loss etc. Often an arborist can make a visit and suggest other options, pruning, for example, which removes the need to take the tree out. And once a large tree is gone, we’ll not see another grow in our lifetimes.
The current system of applying to cut down trees has its limitations. It can be slow and bureaucratic. So let’s look at ways at improving that. Let’s address the problem through a sensible amendment. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and allow wholesale felling of trees except for those few that are scheduled.
This is an early sign of National’s deregulation agenda and I’m sure we will see a lot more of it in the coming months.
The Labour Party will be working constructively and positively with the Green Party on a compromise but unfortunately the Act-National coalition have refused to negotiate. We will keep trying and keep an open mind.
Pressure from the public is crucial. With ACT, the National Government has a majority. That is why I encourage people to write to the Environment Minister, Dr Nick Smith, and their local National MP – particularly those in marginal seats where trees are important part of their communities. They need to be told that trees are important and while the Resource Management Act may not be perfect, this is a step too far.
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