The Eye of the Fish

August 31, 2009

Why does National hate Trees?

For reasons that are unknown to me, the National-led government hates trees. As part of their “Stream-lining and Wholesale Destruction of the Urban Canopy Amendment Bill”, National are pushing through a somewhat ridiculous amendment to the RMA Bill. Basically, this week, the Nats will ram-rod through a number of amendments, including Clause 52 where it will allow people to cut down any trees they like, without having to ask permission. It’s that whole right-wing anti-nanny state thing that ACT and National espouse so much – “no one is gonna tell me what to do with my trees” that sounds just like the the NRA’s famous line espoused so clearly by Charlton Heston “they’ll only take my gun from my cold dead hands”.
Basically, the law is being changed to allow people to cut down trees that block their views or their sunlight, but the blanket provisions are almost certainly bound to have some nasty side effects as our cities become denuded of greenery. But it’s far worse than just targeting your own tree.

The Select Committee reported back to the Minister earlier this week in favour of removing urban tree protection, despite pleading from submitters. If this goes ahead, Local Councils will be prohibited from being able to introduce or enforce general urban tree protection at all. It is expected that the government will put this Bill through the final parliamentary process as soon as Thursday 27th August, but no later than 1st October 2009 after which it would become law. If passed, all NZ Councils will be prohibited from introducing urban tree protection rules from the date the law is passed and all Councils with existing rules will be required to phase them out by January 2012.

That is just stupid, and rude, and plain idiotic. Wellington suffered at the hands of the Chow brothers when they deliberately cut down a listed, protected tree on Tory Street, despite knowing full well that they had no right. They were found guilty, and fined a paltry sum compared to the 2 years in jail they should have spent, or the $200,000 fine they could have faced. If this bill goes through, the Nats and ACT will allow this kind of arboreal slaughter go on on a massive scale, and I for one am appalled by it.

The New Zealand Arboricultural Association notes that the benefits of Urban trees include many amenities, such as:
carbon sequestration,
stormwater control (cost savings for rate payers),
reduced heating/air conditioning bills,
increased revenue for business,
cyclic rain fall critical to farm-belts/reservoirs,
silt control/water quality (healthy fish),
land stability/erosion control,
increased tourism revenue (clean green NZ image),
physical/mental health,
wildlife habitats,
pollution filters,
oxygen source,
UV/wind protection,
controlled local temperatures (climate change!)

In an age where environmental crisis’ are being accepted by nations as key concerns and as it becomes more critical to maintain an ecological balance and increase carbon sequestration, while we still have an opportunity, it seems short sighted, naive and destructive to consider removing general tree protection. This may have devastating effects on our urban tree cover and would allow anyone to remove almost any urban trees, giving free reign to fell trees for money, views or other spurious reasons with no requirement to replant for future generations.

The Minister cited money as a reason for removing tree protection, stating that the current consents system in the Auckland region is costly and cumbersome. There are options to introduce more efficient and effective systems without removing tree protection altogether. The New Zealand Arboricultural Association (NZAA) has offered the Minister free consultation and access to research that would allow them to achieve this goal. This has been refused.”


Do you cherish coastal Pohutukawa? Do you value riparian margin vegetation and street trees? Do you have a duty of care for our shared environment and therefore should live with and benefit from general tree protection? Do you feel trees are important enough to be protected for future generations and the health and well being of all New Zealanders?

If you do agree, then the country urgently needs people to write letters to MPs and to newspapers to help influence their final decision – if only people felt so strongly about the birds and the trees as they do about their right to belt the heck out of their children’s butts. Write IMMEDIATELY to your MP and to the Select Committee and ask them to:

Delete CLAUSE 52 from the proposed bill, or to
SUPPORT the NZAA’s or the Green Party’s amendments to the bill.
The Select Committee:-;

Don’t delay: do it now.

31 - 08 - 09

To the above mentioned MPs:

We are appalled by the government’s decision to remove councils’ ability to apply general protection provisions for trees in urban areas.

Some types of trees need to be protected. Coastal pohutukawa for instance will quickly be removed by many cliff top dwellers to improve their views. This will be at the expense of protection from coastal erosion and will have a highly detrimental effect on the landscape as viewed from the water and beaches.

Patches of native bush that are currently protected will wink out of existence, along with the few birds and lizards that were able to survive in the already highly fragmented landscape. These stepping stones or ecological corridors are critical for bringing wildlife into urban areas.

Individual trees provide privacy, shade, noise protection and character to individual properties and suburbs. If individual trees become problematic then there are provisions already to manage these. If these provisions are not working, fix the provisions rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

And though you’re probably not reading this far, how about not cutting DOC’s budget, or cutting Enviroschools, or ditching energy efficiency initiatives? How about maintaining some ‘local’ in local government?

An older friend commented the other day that he’d never seen such a sustained attack on the environment as the National-led government is currently undertaking. We’d have to agree. See you later Clean, Green NZ.

Phil Brown
Viv Cole

Matthew Bartlett
31 - 08 - 09

What’s the name of the bill?

31 - 08 - 09

the RMA (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill

Stephen Judd
1 - 09 - 09

Just sent:

I am appalled to hear that you are recommending changes to legislation which would prevent local bodies from protecting important trees in cities.

Trees in our cities, even when on private land, provide public amenity just as built structures do. They may be of historic importance, just as buildings can be. Their disposition is a matter of public interest and ought to be under the same oversight as any other kind of activity.

It seems that having decided that we are at a ridiculous extreme, we are to move to another ridiculous extreme.

I urge you to reconsider this change.

Treesare Green
1 - 09 - 09

Sounds a lot like uninvited and damaging meddling in local governance. Does that fit a definition of Nanny State policies? Pot…. meet kettle

1 - 09 - 09

Following your suggestion, i emailed the MPs listed above to express my displeasure at their proposed clause 52. Shane Jones replied that he would be voting against Clause 52. David Garret of ACT replied also, with this message”

Thank you for your email regarding the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill.
The ACT Party supports the findings of the Select Committee considering the Bill – in particular its decision regarding blanket tree protection rules.

ACT believes in private property rights and in individual property owners being able to manage the trees on their properties in the way they see fit. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents a council from designating an individual tree for specific protection.

In our view, the blanket tree protection has created a perverse incentive for individuals with trees on their land to cut them down before they reach a specified height rather than allow them to mature and be subject to the pruning and management obligations of the Resource Management Act.

David Garrett MP
ACT Justice Spokesman

1 - 09 - 09

So it seems that Councils will be stopped from issuing blanket tree-protection orders, but they may still apply for and issue thousands of separate tree protection orders.

Which goes towards freeing up the individual, but creates one heck of a lot of work for each individual council. ACT is a truly perverse institution. I have no idea who voted for them, but I hope they’re feeling ashamed now!

1 - 09 - 09

So, essentially, it is still possible for property owners to be prevented from removing their trees, only now it will be because they are listed in the district plan (and therefore far more difficult to remove than they were)?

Philip B
1 - 09 - 09

There seems to be a big disjunct between the quotes maximus used and the response of garret.

Garret only talks about private entities removing or modifying trees on their own private land (presuming the council doesnt block them with a listing). Which I’m reasonably fine with – I would have thought that there were relatively few major urban trees located on private land.

What I’m confused about is what happens (under the new amendment) if a private entity wants to remove or modify a tree on public land. For example, if a street tree has grown huge and now blocks my living room view, how then do I go about getting it pruned? Do I apply to the council? Do I submit a resource consent? Both?

If all this amendment does it make such a private lobbying for the modification of the public realm possible (where it would previously have been totally blocked by the councils blanket listings) then is it really so evil? Surely in such a case the onus falls on those who mediate these conflicts to ensure that equal weighting is given to the private interests against the public benefits.

Am I missing something here?

1 - 09 - 09

Hello Phil. Yes, I’m confused about it as well. But the meaning of what the Clause does is clear. At present, a council – any council – can say: any tree on public or private land, over x metres tall, can not be cut down without a Resource Consent. The onus is then on the person wanting to cut the tree down to apply for permission and prove reasons why they should be able to.

Clause 52 will remove all that.

Therefore, once this is passed, if the tree is on private property, you can do what you goddam like, and chop down any of your own trees however and whenever you like. Auckland is full of trees like that – Norfolk pines in the back yard of the good folk of Remuera, and Pohutukawas in the front yards of people in Takapuna. And especially Kauri trees in the grounds of residents of the Waitakeri ranges, as former Mayor Shadbolt gave out kauri seedlings to people who paid their rates on time. In 500 years time, there will be another kauri forest there, and no room for houses. Personally, i quite like that.

But i have no idea what the ramifications will be on trees in Council owned land. I can only presume that each Council will need to apply to themselves to give themselves permission to grant protection to each tree. If they don’t do that, presumably anyone with a chainsaw and a grudge could sneak out and do it in at midnight. Sounds unlikely. But so why are they so goddam keen to pass this silly law then?

2 - 09 - 09

The select committee report is slightly more illuminating.

As far as I can tell, the change only applies to trees on private land. I havent read anything to suggest that the amendment affects the councils own trees, and I’m doubtful that local governments would need to include or relist them in the new protection listings.

What the bill would seem to come down to (at least in the committees view) is this:

“Clause 52 could remove the need to process more than 4,000 resource
consent applications per year for pruning or removing trees in urban
areas subject to blanket protection rules.”


“We note that local authorities may need to review their current practices
for listing trees and groups of trees, as the tree or group will have
to be identified specifically in the plan if it is to be protected. To list
a group of trees, considerable detail might be required, including the
species, the number of trees, and their precise location. We also note
that local authorities may need to update their plans for some groups
of trees to make references to some protected groups of trees more

Is this just a matter of efficiency then? An arms race between the cost of private RMA applications and cost of council Protection Provisions?

2 - 09 - 09

I can’t see what the fuss is all about. Most people who don’t live in apartments have trees around their property. They’re not actually that uncommon. Now people will be able to prune them or cut them down without the expense and time required to get permission under the RMA. It doesn’t sound even slightly unreasonable.

If the tree is one of the few that is notable in some way, then the council can still get it listed. But if someone wants to chop down a rotten old tree in their backyard, possibly to replace it with a new and healthy tree or a vege patch or maybe just some lawn, then it doesn’t effect me in the slighest and I don’t see why some council employees need to get involved.

If you want to worry about tree loss, look no further than Labour and their ETS scheme. Their act essentially nationalised the carbon credits in forests, and so that the value in these credits wouldn’t be lost to the government they included restrictions on cutting down trees. Forest owners and farmers, faced with being stuck with trees that they’d never be able to cut down, went on a blitz of deforestation before the restrictions came in to force. I believe that this caused the first net loss in forests in NZ since the 1930s, and it was all caused by “environmental” legislation.

2 - 09 - 09

David P – I guess that’s where you and I disagree. “Now people will be able to prune them or cut them down ….. It doesn’t sound even slightly unreasonable.” It is that same old thing – is the tree just “yours” as it is on “your” property, or does it belong to all of us, to the city, to the ecological system, to the birds that nest there? Same thing as the dwindling fish stocks and the whale slaughter and the destruction of the ecosystem all over the planet – because the fishermen believe it is their right to catch whatever they want and no one should tell them otherwise. Never mind that it screws up the planet.

I’m with you on the forestry blitz under Labour – that was grossly mis-managed – although I certainly don’t think that anyone thought that farmers would be so cruel, cynical, and un-thinking as to cut down their forests. But then I think that farmers are just businessmen/women and so therefore just as likely to be cruel, cynical and unthinking as anyone else.

2 - 09 - 09

Max… There is no shortage of trees in NZ for people to enjoy or for birds to sit in. I’ve just stuck my head out the window and, even tho I live in the CBD, I can see tens of thousands of them. If they were scarce, then you’d have a point. But they’re not, and felling by individual people isn’t going to make much of a difference to the total or to the environment. Believe it or not, most people actually like having trees on their property. The change in the law just means that the few thousand that are cut down every year won’t need RMA approval and the public servants involved can do something better with their time.

Or, to develop your ‘dwindling fish stocks” analogy… Should a person require RMA approval to dispose of a fish in their back yard fish pond? Or to fill in that fish pond and replace it with a tree? Should we employ public servants to process fish pond RMA approvals? No government has required that, so does that mean that Labour and the Greens hate fish? In fact, a recreational fisher doesn’t need RMA approval in order to go out and catch fish that are in the sea and therefore either un-owned or owned by the government.

4 - 09 - 09

To balance out the view of David Garret that I received (posted previously above), here is the view from the Green Party:

“Thanks for your email regarding the removal of tree protection proposed in the National-led Government’s Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill. The bill seeks to ban blanket tree protection rules, leaving diverse and valued trees defenceless. This is particularly relevant to Auckland, where six of the seven city councils use general tree protection rules, but also to other parts of New Zealand where authorities use general tree protection rules to some extent.

As you probably know, the Green Party was the only party to oppose this Bill at its First Reading, we have campaigned in the community to encourage people to have their say, and we have advocated strongly against its worst aspects in Parliament and the Select Committee. With the help of huge numbers of community members who made excellent submissions, the Greens were able to remove some of the worst proposals from the Bill in Select Committee.

However, the Government has refused to budge on the issue of tree protection.

Green Party MPs fought hard in the Select Committee to remove or change the clauses that would ban blanket tree protection rules, but lacked majority support from other committee members. Even a compromise solution was rejected, for political reasons, despite support amongst many on the committee. Please see our Minority Report for more information:
I also recommend our podcast audio discussion on the Bill featuring Jeanette Fitzsimons who sat through most of the Select Committee process:

The Green Party is currently working on amendments to the Bill to remove the ban on tree protection (Clause 52), or form a compromise amendment that protects our trees while simplifying procedures. We remain hopeful that we can persuade Parliament to support these.
Please feel free to pass this response on to others who might be interested. Thank you for caring about trees, and the contribution they make to our urban environment. We’ll do our best to get the Government to see sense on this issue.

Anne Heins
Executive Assistant, Office of Dr Russel Norman MP
Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand”

stuart yeates
6 - 09 - 09

The clause in the Bill is:

18 - 09 - 09

And it’s now passed, and is law. I’m hugely disappointed in National on this – and still don’t really understand why they are doing this. Its like a personal vendetta. Perhaps a branch once fell on Nick Smith’s garage roof or some such.

In the mean time, keep a lookout for stories about neighbours chopping down someone else’s tree. I’ll give it till summer for the first story to surface.

20 - 09 - 09

How do you go about getting a tree scheduled for protection? Is it true that you can start pruning any tree you like in 3 weeks?

20 - 09 - 09

I think that the reason things were previously done as blanket provisions was because it is such a bureaucratic paper filled exercise, especially to tackle something like a single tree. Now the Councils will have to go through this exercise for each single tree they believe is worth fighting for. National will be banking that none will bother fighting that hard. Ask your council what to do. My guess is that they’ll just say they can’t be bothered for a one off tree now.

24 - 09 - 09

I did ask and if I want to try and have a tree scheduled for protection, then I will be responsible for any costs associated with that. I should have guessed as much. This is Auckland City Council by the way.

4 - 01 - 10

the RMA (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill