Auckland Council has backed down over its blanket tree protection rules in a legal dispute with the Property Council.
A memorandum filed with the Environment Court yesterday says the council will treat as revoked a number of rules in its district plan.
That is expected to mean trees previously covered by all-encompassing rules on about 500,000 Auckland properties can be removed in certain situations. Protection will remain for trees on a council-compiled list, as well as those in the Waitakeres, Remuera and part of Hillsborough, coastal and volcanic cone areas.
The memorandum says the Property Council has agreed to stop its legal action against the Auckland Council provided it accepts it can no longer apply the blanket protection rules because of a 2009 amendment to the Resource Management Act.
The rules, which applied to the old council areas of Auckland, North Shore and Rodney, prevented residents from cutting down native and introduced trees above specified heights without council consent.
The Property Council's barrister, Russell Bartlett, said the change meant the council could no longer enforce these regulations, which were still in its district plan. He said that was an enormous victory for people living in urban areas with non-scheduled trees over a certain height or girth because although people still needed to check their zoning, in many cases they could cut or remove trees the council had previously argued would be protected.
The changes would not affect residents in the other former council areas.
The council's in-house lawyer, Wendy Brandon, initially told the Weekend Herald yesterday that the tree rules remained in place and people would still be prosecuted if they broke them.
"Nothing changes at the moment. The proceedings are just stayed."
On seeing a copy of the court memorandum, she said: "While it is correct that certain blanket rules will be treated by council as revoked I don't have the advantage of being able to read this, and the advisers who are managing this file are not contactable. I don't believe this is of such moment that it cannot wait until the New Year for a response from council."
Penny Pirrit, council manager regional and local planning, said the situation was being examined.
"Council staff are currently looking through the proposed tree provisions outlined in the ... amendment bill. Once we have a thorough understanding of these proposals, we will discuss with councillors. As yet we do not have a position," she said.
The Government wants to get rid of blanket tree protection rules by councils and has introduced amendments to the Resource Management Act to try to achieve this.
However, Auckland Council won an Environment Court order to temporarily protect 1800 trees from the change until it could change district plan rules to add them to the schedules of notable trees for each district.
The temporary form of protection has been so complex landowners and contractors had to check with officials whether they needed resource consent before they cut anything down.
Hearings of nominations for additions to the schedules have been held during the year. So far decisions have added 600 trees to the Auckland Isthmus list, 245 to the North Shore's, 200 to Manukau's list, 58 to Papakura's and 300 to Rodney's.
- additional reporting Wayne Thompson