environment

Native trees at risk of developer chainsaws

Described in a pamphlet funded by a local board as an ‘urban forest’, the land home to 46 mature native trees is on the market as a goldmine for development

Mature native trees in a leafy pocket of Avondale are up for sale and at risk of being felled.

The trees were planted almost 100 years ago and some stand up to 20 metres high. Among the 46 trees are 17 different species, including black maire titoki, totara, rimu, puriri and whau. 

Only one of the trees, a pohutukawa, is in Auckland Council’s schedule of notable trees. The rest could be cut down by a developer.

The Avondale property on Canal Road has been owned by the same family for around 100 years. It's now for sale.

The flat land, marketed as a corner site goldmine “ripe for development, or simply landbank for the future”, has generated considerable interest, according to the real estate agent. 

There's an offer already made which has until February 24 to go unconditional.

Only the pohutakawa next to the footpath has legal protection. Photo: Farah Hancock

One house stands on the land, but after a fire destroyed the other dwellings, the remaining plots have been a tree-filled oasis for decades. 

Calls for Auckland Council to purchase the land as a ready-made park, in an increasingly intensified suburb, have gone unheeded. 

Around 2600 signatures were collected in a petition asking Auckland Council to save the trees.

The Tree Council’s secretary Dr Mels Barton said the local board was made aware of the site more than two years ago. 

“For two years they’ve had the opportunity to get in there before it was on the market and do something about it but they didn’t.”

She said the newly elected board was keen on the idea of turning it into a park, but the brief moment of hope for the trees was dashed. 

“They were told that the amount of green space they were required to provide in the Avondale area could be achieved with the deal they are going to do with the racecourse.”

Auckland Council’s senior policy manager community investment Paul Marriott-Lloyd told Newsroom there were no plans to purchase the land, pointing out another reserve already exists on the same street.

Barton is annoyed nothing happened two years earlier. She thinks now the property is on the market, with an offer made for it, it’s become too hard for the council to do anything.

“It wasn’t too hard two years ago. That’s called planning.”

She points out the property is featured in a guided walk pamphlet of Avondale’s historical and natural points of interest as an urban forest. She said the local board funded the pamphlet.

“You would think they would be a little bit more interested in keeping it for future generations, but clearly not.”

Photo: Farah Hancock

Chainsaw massacre

A change to the Resource Management Act in 2009 stopped local councils from passing rules to protect a class of trees. Previously, native trees in Auckland taller than six metres were protected. What’s happened since the protection was lost has been called the “great chainsaw massacre”.

One study, published in 2018, used aerial photographs to show just in Auckland’s Waitematā board area at least 12,879 trees had been cut down in the decade to February 2016. This total area of tree canopy lost is over 61 hectares. 

Around 6000 Auckland trees are protected by being on the schedule of notable trees. Others are protected if they are in an area identified as a significant ecological area.

It’s possible to nominate trees on other people’s private property to be included in the schedule of protected trees but it’s difficult. Requests for trees that aren’t on public land, or land owned by the nominator, slip to the bottom of the priority pile for the assessors.

Landscape architect Mark Lockhart is keen for something to be done to save the mature trees. He knows too well what happens when sites are developed.

“As an Auckland-based landscape architect, my experience of intense residential developments is a “scorched earth” approach which is profit driven.”

He stumbled upon the Avondale site by accident and was blown away by the age, size and variety of trees. 

“It is probably the only private property in Auckland with such an array of mature trees. Its location in an urban landscape that will become intensely developed makes it a perfect site for a pocket park. Apart from the obvious botanical uniqueness of the site, it is valuable from an ecological, biodiversity and visual amenity perspective.”

A neighbour of the site said birds frequented the area and mornings were punctuated with the call of tui.

Forest & Bird’s Nick Beveridge has written to Auckland Council supporting the call for the council to purchase and protect the land. 

He said it forms part of the Whau Wildlink. This is a regional link for wildlife link of green stepping stones for birds and wildlife which connects islands in the Hauraki Gulf with the Waitakere Ranges.

He said tui would move to a different area if there weren’t enough trees to nest, roost and feed from.

“Any urban trees, or group of trees, has benefits. Particularly when they’re in an area where there are not many other trees. I think that we should do everything we can to save it.”

With a council purchase unlikely, the Tree Council’s Barton isn’t hopeful for the trees. 

“I don't want to be pessimistic but people don't buy properties like that to develop them in order to keep the trees. They buy them and develop them in order to make a lot of money. And that's what they'll do. The trees are just going to be in the way I'm afraid.”

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