Trees

tree stumpsFirst they came for the trees. Then for the gracious houses and generous back lawns. And finally they came for what belonged to us – our reserves and if they could get their hands on it, some juicy parkland.

That’s been the political trajectory of this Government’s changes to the Resource Management Act and none of it is pretty, especially when it’s so blatantly a pay-off for developers.

If you walk through any of Auckland’s once leafy suburbs, you routinely hear chainsaws, and later, see the ugly results. On some days in our neighbourhood, you can count 2-3 stumps where trees once grew – headstones not just for the glorious trees which used to grow there, but for a vanishing neighbourhood.  It worries the Environmental Defence  Society which reported recently that it was concerned Auckland was losing its ‘urban forest. ‘

Recent research by the University of Auckland has shown that trees in central Auckland are being cut down because of repeated RMA reforms.

“While other cities have targets of achieving 40% tree cover or more, Auckland is moving backwards with a minimalist approach reliant on a cumbersome and costly scheduling process,” said EDS’s Senior Policy Analyst, Dr Marie Brown.

When and how did this all begin? Not long after John Key took office and Auckland City found its blanket protection of trees had been removed by the new, developer-friendly administration. National’s 2009 move to simplify the RMA Act focused on rules which Councils had imposed on private urban land.

Rules. What a quaint notion. National’s avowedly non-nanny state Government isn’t about rules. It was, is, and always should be about individual freedom, mate. And so the chainsaws buzz angrily, clearing the way for houses to be removed or demolished. It’s nothing less than an onslaught on our environment. But that’s environment with a small e. For the upper case variety, Key told the Paris Climate Change Conference that his Government would be committing $20 million to help farmers reduce emissions, which prompted a giggle.

The NZ Herald noted that John Key’s address to the UN Paris Climate Talks, along with our weak emissions targets, won New Zealand the Fossil of the Day Award from the Climate Action Group. It represents 950 environmental groups from 110 different countries, so it carries some heft.

But  back to those old rules. They were there for a reason – resource consents were needed before trees of a certain girth or height could be trimmed, felled, damaged or removed. Trouble is, only about 700 people made submissions to 2009 changes to the Resource Management Act, according to an understandably despairing Tree Council.

Meanwhile developers are about to reap even more benefits from the latest   National-inspired re-write of the RMA. Honestly if these people didn’t have Welfare beneficiaries and the RMA to pick on what would they do? Oops, I forgot. The ideological thrust for a surplus of course, which if National casts its eyes north, would be seen as old fashioned crisis capitalism.

There Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected on promises of running deficits and increasing taxes for the rich for the benefit of the wider community. Speaking of which, 300 of those in our community trooped into the Three Kings School Hall recently where a meeting had been called by the Three Kings United Group. Supported by locals, it has been fighting a massive proposal by Fletchers to build 1500 new homes and apartments – some ten storeys high – in a quarry so deep that future residents will have to climb 94 steps just to get to road level. Either that or take the single public lift.

Speakers told the meeting about a secret meeting held between the company and the Council’s property arm; we saw video of one councillor being shouted down as he attempted to protest on our behalf; we were told that the Council had urged locally elected Board members to remain tight-lipped on the issue – but such was their anger, they spoke out anyway; we heard that the requirement for green space around the houses-to-be had been severely trimmed back; that sight lines to the last remaining King volcanic cone were endangered; that there was no understanding that we lived in a community, because from the depths of the quarry would arise a gated community, cut off from the rest of the neighbourhood.

The culprit behind all this is of course the government which created this Council, not for the good of communities, but for the welfare of its business mates. Its ‘boards’ are unaccountable, secrecy pervades much of its deliberations – in short it’s an aberration of local government – centralised when it should have been decentralised to give communities more say in their environment.

The loss of our trees, this quarry development and the destructive political machines which encouraged it may not be as important as the issues being discussed in Paris. But this is our world – and it’s disappearing fast.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.