Auckland Council’s 10 year plan, the Recovery Budget, has some good news for increasing the tree canopy of Auckland.  Backed by a one-off 5% rates rise, an additional $14m will be invested in growing our urban and rural forests, including:

  • planting an extra 11,000 mature street trees;
  • partnering with community to provide an additional 200,000 native seedlings per year to support council projects, plus community and marae planting programmes; and
  • an additional 200 hectares of native forest in regional parks.

    Waitematā Local Board members Alex Bonham and Adriana Christie and Councillor Pippa Coom with Conservation Volunteers at Western Springs planting day. Photo Luke McKeown.

The priority on trees is one of the reasons City Vision’s councillors and local board members supported the budget.  Surveying is under way to determine locations for street trees. Local board areas with the lowest canopy cover will be targeted first. This is in addition to planting programmes and ecological restoration already underway, and the Mayor’s 1.5 million trees initiative.

A consistent concern raised by submitters to the draft Recovery Budget consultation was the need to protect urban trees. That’s not a surprise. Since general tree protection rules were removed by the National government in 2012, there are limited restrictions on chopping down large trees on private land. City Vision shares the concern that in a climate emergency the fate of urban trees has to be very carefully managed.

Last year, Auckland Council signed off Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri – Auckland’s Climate Plan, which included the undertaking to “grow and protect our rural and urban ngahere (forest) to maximise carbon capture and build resilience to climate change”. The Recovery Budget backs this up with new funding to contribute to our goal of reducing Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

A recent council report, based on data up to 2018, provides a cautiously optimistic indication about overall tree coverage despite the removal of tree protection rules almost a decade ago. It is concerning to see the removal of any large trees but in general we do not have a “massacre” on our hands. However the report also shows we have a lot more to do to achieve the Urban Ngahere (Forest) Strategy goal of 30% tree cover by 2050, especially in the five local board areas that are currently under the 15% minimum goal.

City Vision-led local boards have taken the lead in developing localised Urban Ngahere Action Plans with the Waitematā Local Board being the first. The plan is a road map for replenishing the urban forest and achieving 30% tree cover by 2050. There are now 16 local boards who have either finalised or are in the process of taking Waitematā’s lead on their own plan. There are numerous benefits associated with having, developing and maintaining a flourishing urban forest.

Other local boards have also funded programmes over the last decade from partnering with community groups who undertake restoration of the local biodiversity to specific programmes such as Future Giants in Albert-Eden.

Although we continue to urge central government to reinstate blanket tree protection powers as part of the RMA review, we want to see the council use what limited tree protection powers are available. There are over 550 notable trees waiting to be scheduled in the Auckland Unitary Plan and the Auckland District Plan when resources permit.

City Vision Local Board members Margi Watson and Graeme Easte with Whau local board member Jessica Rose.

City Vision Councillors Cathy Casey and Pippa Coom have secured agreement in the Recovery Budget that “over next year, scoping work programmes which will provide greater protection to notable trees including actions from Council itself and from the government in terms of restoring provisions for comprehensive protection for notable trees.”

This scoping work will provide the basis for identifying the funds needed in the Annual Budget 22/23 for scheduling notable trees.

In more good news, a prominent pōhutukawa in Mt Eden that was at risk after accidentally being omitted from the Notable Trees Schedule will now be protected. Demand for urgent action was initially made by City Vision members of the Albert-Eden Local Board and led to a proposal to amend the schedule which was approved by Auckland Council’s Planning Committee. City Vision Councillor Cathy Casey worked directly with the Mayor to ensure a plan change will be notified before 1 October 2021.

City Vision’s Pippa Coom and Richard Northey (Waitematā Local Board chair) recently attended the Local Government NZ AGM with the Mayor, advocating for the return of tree protection rules. Auckland successfully secured support for a remit at the conference “that LGNZ advocate that the provisions that were added to the RMA, that restricted tree protection, be repealed urgently and that this change be carried through into new resource management legislation, thereby restoring the right to councils to adopt and enforce locally appropriate policies to protect trees in their district. That LGNZ advocate to use the current RMA reform process to ensure these changes are carried through into new legislation”.  The remit passed with 78% support.

Finally, it’s tree planting season. City Vision elected representatives have taken part in many volunteer tree planting events across Auckland. We are genuinely committed to protecting and restoring Auckland’s urban trees.

Waitematā Local Board members Graeme Gunthorp and Adriana Christie at the Western Springs community planting day. Photo Luke McKeown.