People power and common sense won the day on February 20th when the Auckland Transport Board went against officer advice in deciding not to go ahead with the planned widening of Great North Road that would have required the removal of six heritage Pohutukawa trees. A well organised campaign challenged an Auckland Transport and NZTA culture that was only willing to consider one option for over 3 years.
It was an important win not just for saving 6 trees but for forcing a rethink about the design of all roading projects. It was also a win for trees in general by raising awareness about the huge range of benefits that a magnificent stand of trees can provide the community and the landscape.
I was proud to be part of the Waitematā Local Board that stood with the community and that has consistently told Auckland Transport the plans needed to be re-considered.
Much has been written during the campaign about the process, plans and final outcome. Here are some highlights:
Over the Christmas – New Year break the “Pohutukawa Savers” have been busy drawing attention to the plight of the majestic trees Auckland Transport wants to chop down at 820 Great North Road opposite MOTAT. The Pohutukawa 6 are up against the motorway widening juggernaut but there is still time to save them for the benefit of future generations.
Here is an update on the process so far and what steps are available to put a stop to Auckland Transport’s tree destruction agenda.
Back in August 2013 Auckland Transport’s presented “final” plans to the Waitematā Local Board for widening Great North Road as part of NZTA’s St Lukes interchange project to provide for an additional turning lane onto SH16 via a reconstructed St Lukes bridge. AT’s plans included improved cycling facilities and an extended bus lane but also required the removal of six 80 year old Pohutukawa trees. As the trees are on Auckland Council owned open space land zoned for car parking Auckland Transport needed the Board’s consent to go ahead with the intended works.
After many months of reviewing draft plans and discussing the options with the Board (and our Park’s advisors) Auckland Transport’s army of consultants were confident the Board’s sign off was a mere formality. However the Board remained unconvinced with Auckland Transport’s assessment that the only option was for the road to be widened and the trees removed so we refused to grant consent. I reported on the Board’s position at the time.
A couple of months later Auckland Transport took a different tack by successfully obtaining resource consent for stage 1 works for a single turning lane from Great North Road on to the new bridge. As landowners the Board gave approval for the trees to be pruned so the turning lane could be raised to meet the height of the new bridge-subject to a range of conditions.
However in Febuary 2014 Auckland Transport informed the Board that instead of going ahead with stage 1 as consented AT intended to seek to vary the resource consent and obtain a Notice of Requirement (NOR) to remove the trees. The application was publicly notified on 6 June 2014 and 65 submissions were received, the majority of which opposed the removal of the trees (frustratingly due to a clerical error 54 of these submissions were disqualified from the process – an absurd situation that undermined the hearing – Jolisa Gracewood has documented the experience here) . The Waitematā Local Board was one of the submitters in opposition to the NOR suggesting an alternative design which would have seen the trees retained without defeating Auckland Transport’s transport objectives.
A public hearing on the NOR was heard in early November over 2 days. The Waitematā Local Board engaged its own lawyer (the excellent Nick Whittington from Meredith Connell) and expert witnesses to strongly oppose Auckland Transport’s application at the hearing as outlined in the Board Chair’s statement.
Just before Christmas, Council received the independent commissioners recommendation unfortunately confirming the NOR as lodged, i.e. with the removal of the trees, with the addition of the landscaping plan (photo right) submitted at the hearing.
Auckland Transport formally received Council’s (through the Hearing Panel) recommendation on 18 December 2014 and has 30 working days to make their decision on whether or not they accept the Hearing Panel’s recommendation. They can now make that decision any time up until 20 February 2015. (For the purposes of the RMA, “working day” does not include the period commencing 20 December to 10 January).
Once Auckland Transport advises Council of their decision, Council has 15 working days to advise submitters of the decision.
Auckland Council (as the Territorial Authority) and/or the submitters may appeal the decision within 15 working days of receiving notice of Auckland Transport’s (the Requiring Authority’s) decision
The appeal period runs for 15 working days from Auckland Council’s notification of Auckland Transport’s decision.
AT cannot do any of the works under the NOR (which includes the removal of trees) until such time as the appeal period has ended and any appeals resolved.
Once the appeal process has been exhausted and if Auckland Transport has permission to remove the trees, Auckland Transport has to seek land owner consent to enter the land. Auckland Council is the landowner. The Waitematā Local Board are the delegated decision makers. If the Board refuses to give consent AT will then have to use the Public Works Act. At the Community Group Liaison Meeting on 20 January (reported on by Transport Blog’s Patrick Reynolds) Board Chair Shale Chambers said that he would take the decision to a Board meeting so that there would be another opportunity for public input.
The fight to save the trees
The appeal process is likely to mean that Auckland Transport cannot take any steps to remove the trees until well into the year. In the meantime campaigning is underway to put pressure on Auckland Transport to re-look at the options.
Action Station: use this handy link to send an email to David Warburton, CEO Auckland Transport (over 500 have used it already)
Follow and support the campaign on Facebook(Save the Western Springs Pohutukawa)
Join the campaign:a Pohutukawa Savers group is using Loomio to plan the protest action. The history of the trees is also being collated by Jolisa Gracewood . It looks highly likely the Pohutukawas that form a boulevard along Great North Road were planted deliberately on Arbor Day in 1934 for the enjoyment of future generations as part of the formation of Chamberlain Golf Course