Lord of the tree rules

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The general tree protection rules for trees within the 'urban environment' that were previously in the Resource Management Act were removed on 4 September, 2015.

The general tree protection rules for trees within the ‘urban environment’ that were previously in the Resource Management Act were removed on 4 September, 2015.

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Simon Miller.

Simon Miller.

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Simon Miller is a director of Peers Brown Miller, arboricultural and environmental consultants. His arboricultural experience encompasses Ireland, the UK, Germany and New Zealand where he has lived for the past 22 years.

Simon is also a writer and broadcaster. He hosted the Green Desk, a weekly spot looking at environmental issues, on Radio 95bFM from 2007 - 2015 and is currently producing and presenting the Rangitumau Public Bar for Access Radio.

Here, he discusses the axing of the general tree protection rules following changes to the Resource Management Act 1991 by the RMAA 2013, s76(4A), which came into force on 4 September 2015.

Simon Miller.

Well Saruman’s Day – September 4th 2015 – has come and gone, and now it’s official. It is official that ‘General Tree Protection’ is finally o-o-ver and Auckland’s tree population is the ‘official fuel partner’ of Auckland’s expansion. Porcine grunting, hyena-ish yowling and self-satisfied smirking can be heard (not sure if you can hear a smirk, but I like the alliteration and in this instance I feel I can definitely hear the smirking) from the smugly appointed offices of the Property Council – job well done boys and girls!

Private property rights have once again triumphed over environmental realities and all is well in Ayn Rand-land [Ayn Rand – Russian philosopher, author and poster girl for the ACT party. Oh and possibly responsible for the 2007 global financial meltdown, but that’s another day’s story). And while we’re on about the primacy of private property rights, we can see how well that’s working out in California’s water crisis; something along the lines of ‘we grabbed the land first, we’re at the top of the water catchment, we can do what we damn well please with the water’. Never mind that the land is sinking and the salt water’s three feet high and rising. Idiocy really, but people actually believe that stuff.

But back to Saruman. Thanks very much to J.R.R Tolkien – and especial thanks to Peter Jackson for those of us who never quite got around to reading the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) – for providing such a clear visual image of the policy position vis a vis trees pursued by the National Party, in particular Anti-Environment Minister Nick Smith. You know the scene I’m talking about in LOTR ‘Two Towers’; there’s a massive hole in the earth surrounded by denuded ground and scorched earth – Isengard basically (pre-amalgamation I think). Nick Saruman’s Property Council Orcs have decimated the lush forests nearby and are lobbing entire trees wholesale into Isengard’s furnace pits to fuel its relentless development.

I’m sure the Orcs and the Ents [LOTR tree people; probably not tree ‘professionals’ though; although, being more or less trees they could be categorised as ‘professional trees’] had an in depth discussion about balancing ‘economic imperatives’ with ‘environmental outcomes’. The Ents would probably have wondered if you can actually breathe money; the Orcs quite rightly would have grunted and started up the chainsaw. Can’t argue with that logic really.

I guess that’s where I get confused about the whole mind-set about dumping general tree protection rules. I remember making my submission to the select committee considering the legislation (the changes to the RMA that would allow the tree rules to go) a few years ago. I was making the usual points about trees being “fundamental to the continuation of life on earth … trees make oxygen, we breathe oxygen … etc” and was wondering aloud as to how this was not of equal importance to stormwater infrastructure, housing developments, roads and all those developmental bits and pieces.

I mean if you’re actually suffocating you can’t use those things, can you? Well we all know what happened to the tree rules don’t we. Which leaves me to conclude that those who devised the changes must themselves have been deprived of oxygen at crucial stages of their own development (at birth perhaps?) and are seeking to spread that particular brand of joy to the rest of us. Well they do say ignorance is bliss, don’t they?

Of course I may be fretting needlessly. The combination of 300m2 sections, 299m2 houses and no general tree protection may indeed turn Isengard – I mean Auckland – into the world’s most liveable city. Let’s breathe in deeply and catch up again on Saruman’s Day next year and see how we’re doing.


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