Protecting Trees in Tāmaki Makaurau

Update: I (Jon) recently tried to add a group of trees to the schedule and received the reply below from Auckland Council. Sadly, it seems there is no way to protect trees in Tamaki Makarau at present.

Today’s post is written by the awesome Bobby Shen, a fellow Roskill Community Voice member on the Puketāpapa Local Board. Give his page a like at :https://www.facebook.com/BobbyShenPuketapapa/

Does your neighbourhood have a big tree that everyone loves? Does it have great value and offers something to the general public?

Recently I helped two constituents understand a bit more about protected trees. The query was around two kauri trees on a private property backing onto a stream and they were wondering if they were “protected” or not.

There is protection offered to trees in various ways as per this Auckland Council article: the Auckland Unitary Plan has a schedule of notable trees, the land title or past resource consents.

The overarching slogan is “check before you chop!”

The history of tree protection

The history behind this is that all trees over a certain criterion used to be protected by default but this was removed country-wide by central government in 2012 due to high transaction costs for the volume of resource consents that had to be processed.

Changes to the Resource Management Act came into force on 1 January 2012 which removed the blanket protection of trees in urban environments. Specifically, Sections 76(4A) and 76(4B) of the RMA were inserted by the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 (RMAA09). You can find useful information relating to these changes on the Ministry for the environment website.

Notable Trees

From the Auckland Council website:

A notable tree is a tree or group of trees that a community or nation regards as being of special importance because they:

  • commemorate important events in a nation’s history
  • are an exceptional or unique example of a species
  • are critical to the survival of other animal and plant species
  • are of such age, stature, character and visibility that they are regarded as the best in the district.

So, it is quite a high bar to get a tree to be a notable tree, and the application form spells it out in a bit more detail. If approved as a notable tree it will be added to the Unitary Plan notable tree schedule.

That way it gets greater legal protection and it:

  • can’t be cut down or removed without us approving a resource consent
  • may be eligible for grants and other incentives.

According to this 2017 article, just after the Unitary Plan was developed and became operative, there were approximately 6000 trees protected across Auckland in its new Supercity form.

Looking up from Rowan Reserve

Find out if your area has notable trees

Here is a small tutorial I put together for my constituents about how to find out if trees around them are “notable trees” with Auckland Unitary Plan protection.

The Unitary Plan is made of two parts: the text/schedules and the maps.

You can find protected trees in the Unitary Plan Notable Trees Schedule.

In case you haven’t viewed them before on the Unitary Plan maps, here is a step-by-step process:

  1. Go to https://unitaryplanmaps.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/upviewer/
  2. Click the “LEGEND” tab to show the menu of different layers
  3. Click the downward facing arrow to the right of “Unitary Plan Management Layers” to expand that category
  4. Click the downward facing arrow to the right of “Overlays” then click the checkbox next to “Natural Heritage”
  5. Then on the map you will see little green triangles where there are officially protected trees. You can find out more by zooming in to the area, clicking the green ‘i’ icon and then clicking the property with the tree triangle.
  6. Once you click the applicable address, it will tell you the number of the tree which you can find in the link above to the schedule.
Currently unprotected, these trees in Three Kings Reserve may fit the requirements to be listed.

So, what if a tree is not listed in the schedule or on the maps?

The tree is not officially protected under the Unitary Plan but it may still have other protections in place as per the article above.

If you are passionate about a tree or a group of trees then you could go through the application process to list the tree. In particular, read the “Guidelines for Nominating a Notable Tree for Evaluation.”

You might also want to check out this non-official schedule of trees that the NZ Notable Trees Trust has put together. Important Note: being on this register doesn’t necessarily mean it has legal protection.

In conclusion

In the Puketāpapa area, there aren’t that many notable trees listed in the Unitary Plan, which means a great deal of trees don’t have any protection from being chopped down. From a environment and climate point of view, we want to improve Auckland with more trees for people to enjoy – initiatives such as Mayor Phil Goff’s “A Million Trees” that occurred in the 2016-2019 term and the Auckland Council’s Urban Ngahere (Forest) Strategy goes a long way toward this but we would also like to see a lot more mature trees valued and protected.

There may be legitimate reasons for mature trees to be removed, such as wilding pines or ones that pose a health and safety risk, but it should be put under scrutiny and robust debate before that occurs.

The young trees we planted in 2019 have a long way to go to reach the status of a ‘notable’ tree!

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