Julie Fairey, Chair, Puketāpapa Local Board and City Vision councillor candidate for the Albert-Eden- Puketāpapa ward. 

Trees matter for our city, and our region, indeed our planet.  They literally turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, lower the temperature in a street, and can shade us from the increasingly brutal sun as we move around our neighbourhood.  Trees are beautiful to look at, host birds and insects, and sometimes children’s swings, and they are particularly essential in higher density housing areas as they soften the impact of big buildings and create a more natural, human scaled, environment.

What can we do as local communities?  How can we do better by the trees we have, and ensure we are planting, and protecting, the mature trees of the future?  

Auckland Council has had local boards since late 2010, and in recent times a lot of local action on trees, and climate action, is coming out of these 21 local decision-making bodies.  You can vote for your local representatives on these boards from mid September, and you might want to ask them, and other local government candidates about their plans for trees.  

I’ve been on the Puketāpapa Local Board since 2010 and am currently the chair.  Since the chaos of the early days of Auckland Council, when no one knew what local boards were or how they would work, elected members, residents and council staff have built them into powerful decision-making and advocacy bodies, working on behalf of their local communities.  

There’s a lovely avenue of trees in Mt Roskill, on Somerset Road, near the Roskill campus where thousands of local kids go to school everyday.  The trees are big and they shade the greenway cycling and walking connection that runs along the side of the road to the schools.  And the trees are old, with all of them likely to come to the end of their natural lives in the next thirty years.  Faced with ongoing deterioration, and thus danger to people, from these trees, our local board decided to work with the community to come up with a plan to save these particular trees for as long as possible, while slowly building up new plantings to recreate the avenue with different species over time.  We talked to the Tree Council, got advice from arborists, and asked for public input.  Now there is a thirty year plan for these trees, and the ones to come, that not only resolves ongoing questions about their future, it also envisages the next generation of growth for this special spot.

Here’s a few examples of other work in the Greater Mt Roskill area, led by the local board, which may inspire!

Check in with The Tree Council

We’re so lucky to have The Tree Council who really do speak for the trees.  They have a lot of expertise and take a very practical approach to the complex issues, with a long term view.  Along with some other members of the local board, I met with them in 2020 to see what their priorities were for our area and what we could do together.  I’ve since checked in with them several times, including running the final draft of the Urban Ngahere Plan (see below) past them for feedback before we voted on it.  I’ve found them to be passionate advocates and really valued the “critical friendship” they have offered.

Adopting an Urban Ngahere Plan

Puketapapā Local Board members Bobby Shen and Jon Turner

Each local board has the ability to create and adopt strategic plans that help to achieve change in their area.  Every three years local boards do a big Local Board Plan to capture the aspirations of their community (here’s the current one for Puketāpapa), spending most of a year consulting and refining it with locals.  They might also work on plans for parks, network provision plans (eg public toilets, drinking fountains, open space), and other strategies for low carbon action, stream catchments, suburb redevelopment, and, in this case, our urban tree cover.  The final draft of the Urban Ngahere Plan for Puketāpapa can be seen here from page 39 (the final version is almost the same, just a few minor errors fixed but it’s not up online yet).  Not only does it look at the current tree stock, break down tree cover by suburbs, and look at the different kinds of plantings needed for biodiversity in the area, it also outlines sites which could have more planting on them.  The latter now forms part of an annual spend on tree planting in the local board’s work programme, slowly putting more trees in the ground, in particular saplings that are already on their way and not just seedlings.

Supporting ongoing tree planting on streets and in parks

Puketāpapa takes part in the Adopt a Park programme, which sees local institutions care for a particular spot they love.  Recently through this an area of Keith Hay Park was planted by Year 8 students at Waikowhai Intermediate.  There is the Migrant Conservation Volunteer programme, which looks at the social connection ecological volunteering can provide for those new to NZ as well, and of course many great Friends groups who support pest control as well as tree planting.  All of these local groups, and more, have had support from the local board and council staff, and, crucially Wendy from Friends of Oakley Creek who is a mentor in conservation for many across the Auckland isthmus.  

Street trees are also vital, for amenity as well as climate action.  Sadly many are vandalised or even removed by neighbours.  I found one last year on Arundel St, which has a lovely length of cherry blossoms along it, except for outside one house where someone had taken to it with a chainsaw.  If you see damage to a tree on a street, or in a park, please do log it with council for attention – if can be replaced in the next planting season (roughly May to October) if it can’t be saved.

Ensuring existing trees are protected as much as possible in park projects

Parks and open spaces serve a variety of functions, and can end up being places where a lot of building or disruption takes place.  To give one local example, the massive Central Interceptor runs underneath Albert-Eden and Puketāpapa, and many of the construction sites are in local parks.  Local boards have input on the conditions for those works which in Puketāpapa’s case have included ensuring protection of as many existing trees as possible.  When Watercare wants to get rid of a tree they have to make a strong case (and they have a couple of times).  I’ve seen a real change in attitude from the Central Interceptor crew on this in the last two years; at the moment the puriri trees they need to keep at the north end of the park have little fences around them and signs on them saying they need to stay, which I’ve never seen before.  

Working with large scale developers 

For the Greater Mt Roskill area this is Kāinga Ora, who are putting in at least 11000 new dwellings through the Roskill Development, and Fletchers, who are developing the former Three Kings quarry into a residential development likely to have 1000 homes.  

With Kāinga Ora, the local board has advocated over the last few years for them to preserve as many mature trees as possible, and to include rain gardens (which also act as stormwater infrastructure) and new plantings in their designs.  At one point they came to a meeting with us with what they considered a ngahere plan.  It was a map of which trees would go and which would stay in their works in Waikōwhai, which is where I live.  We pointed out that wasn’t really a ngahere plan, and we wanted them to do better.  I’m sure many others made that point too

Since then they have created a new role for an Urban Ngahere Lead, employed someone in that position who has a strong history with parks, and started covenanting some of the mature trees that they are keeping.  In Roskill South they have protected two large puriri, so that when the land is sold the trees will have legal protection, and planted other puriri as nearby street trees to create a grove for kereru in future.  On Nash Road they have fenced off large trees that are staying as the sites are redeveloped, to make it clear to contractors and the community alike.  We hope to encourage them to continue to do this, and to be more ambitious about keeping trees and planting (and protecting) the mature trees of the future.  

Fletchers is quite a different experience from dealing with Kāinga Ora, but that’s a subject for another time.  As they are redeveloping an old quarry there aren’t any trees to save, so the conversation is more focused on ensuring they do a lot of planting.  In particular we’ve given feedback that we like the profusion of street trees they have in the last former quarry they rehabilitated, Stonefields, and want to see at least that level of planting.  So far they are keen, but it’s a while before spades will hit dirt on that, so it will be important to keep the pressure on.  There’s also an acknowledgement, in the high level public open space for this development, that the area will need wetlands and other types of planting to allow for biodiversity.

There’s more being done, and no doubt other local board areas have cool stories of tree love too; please share those ideas!  

Regional progress

At the regional level while there is a great Auckland Urban Ngahere Plan, tree protection has been stymied in official planning documents, mostly by central government changes that took effect in 2015.  Prior to the Unitary Plan being adopted in 2016 there were some trees scheduled in the district plans and most of those were included in the new plan, but since then it has been very difficult to add new trees.  While scheduling isn’t a silver bullet, it does mean land owners are more likely to think about working around a tree, rather than start from the position of getting rid of it.  In 2012 I worked on supporting public submissions raising concerns about a new Warehouse in Royal Oak which included the removal of several scheduled trees, and while some were saved some were not.  The situation at Canal Road in Avondale was heart-breaking, and should never be repeated.

Credit goes to the Albert-Eden Local Board and the Tree Council for managing to get the Eglinton Ave pōhutukawa in Mt Eden protected recently, after it was left out of the Auckland Unitary Plan in error.  This required a Plan Change, which is a big deal for council.  As a submitter in favour (in a personal capacity) I got many emails about the process, how it was progressing, and the final decision.  

There have also been some amazing transplanting efforts in the city centre, especially along the waterfront, where large trees in the way of street upgrades have been able to be dug out, the root balls protected, and now they are in their new forever homes providing shade and habitat, and a touch of the bush on our busiest streets.

The Tree Council took legal action against Auckland Council to get tree scheduling going again. Working in with a budget amendment Councillor Pippa Coom put up in 2020 to support scheduling when resources allow, the Tree Council’s action has resulted in council planning staff agreeing to progress the work needed to re-open the scheduling process.  Those efforts are now underway and recently the Planning Committee notified the first group of trees to be considered for scheduling in years.  Plan Change 83 (PC83) would add 24 individual trees and four groups of trees to the schedule, and you can make a submission on this until 29th September.  There is a commitment to un-stick this frustrating pause, with the public now able to nominate trees for scheduling again at last, but it will need a new Mayor and Governing Body who push it through and don’t let it languish.  

And of course it’s impossible to talk about trees in Auckland without addressing the vision Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA) have for the 14 Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) they have responsibility for.  A small part of the total land of Tāmaki Makaurau, but a strong symbol and places of importance to mana whenua and the broader community. These volcanic cones were returned to a collective of thirteen mana whenua iwi and hapū to govern in a 2014 Treaty settlement, and are no longer in council ownership, although public access remains under the Reserves Act.

The TMA’s vision is to restore and protect these iconic taonga.  As they work towards that goal they need to restore damaged areas, and work carefully around archaeological sites such as former pa, midden and kumara pits.  You may have noted how the new boardwalk at Maungawhau Mt Eden perches on top of the land, rather than being dug into it.  This is deliberate, and award-winning; an effort to ensure only essential infrastructure is on the tihi (summit) and that it sits lightly on sites of great significance. The medium term ambition is to cloak each of the Maunga in native bush again, in particular to allow for native birds, bats and insects to thrive in our city.  

An admirable goal it seems all agree on, but in order to achieve it some of the current trees do need to come down.  “Right tree right place” is a mantra within council and unfortunately on maunga there are wrong trees in wrong places; some pest plants, others coming to the end of their natural life, and others not able to really support the native eco system that is being created. There have been court cases about the best way to deal with those.  Right now the TMA is consulting specifically on plans in relation to four Maunga, two of which are in the local board area I represent.  I encourage you to check out the information and have your say; it closes on October 8th (which also happens to be Election Day for Auckland Council).

In conclusion, trees matter.  Local boards have an important role, as does the broader Council at a regional and organisational level, and it will take community support to make sure trees are an integral part of the future planning and operations of Auckland.  Planting and protecting need to become part of business as usual, and cutting down a well justified exception, so trees can fulfill their function for our climate future.

Julie Fairey, Chair, Puketāpapa Local Board and City Vision councillor candidate for the Albert-Eden- Puketāpapa ward.