Auckland Council has announced that blanket tree protection rules have been axed in Rodney, on the North Shore and the old Auckland City Council area except the CBD.
Penny Pirrit, regional and local planning manager, said the changes were made as a result of the Government's proposed Resource Management Act amendments, Environment Court proceedings and the upcoming Unitary Plan.
"Auckland Council has revised the extent of the general tree protection rules ... meaning council consent may no longer be required to cut or prune trees," she said, referring to the three areas.
That followed the success of a Property Council challenge, due to reach the Environment Court yesterday but shelved just before Christmas when an agreement was reached between the parties.
On December 21, the Property Council said it would not proceed with a tree protection court challenge as long as the council agreed to revoke blanket tree protection - and tell everyone about that "as soon as it is reasonably able".
Eighteen days elapsed between the council signing the agreement and Penny Pirrit issuing a statement a fortnight ago.
In that hiatus, Herald readers complained of what they said was an extremely confusing situation.
Reader Jeff Hawkins wanted a copy of the memorandum of understanding over the Environment Court hearing, reported in the Herald on December 22, saying he had a large gum tree on his property.
Reader John Griffin, who has a big rimu, said he had also tried to understand the situation. He had contacted about 15 people in various organisations including the council and the Justice Department but was upset that he could not get any information other than being told to seek help from a council aborist.
"We almost have to chop before we get clarification and it seems the council is intentionally obfuscating around the issue because they're trying to perpetuate the previous situation," Griffin said.
"I don't think they're acting in a manner that they should be, given they should be representing the ratepayer."
Penny Pirrit said some trees remained protected but this was more site-specific and she still encouraged people to check with the council. Some trees are scheduled, listed as specifically protected and these cannot be chopped down. Neither can some near streams or the coast.
"The latest changes to the rules will mean that some residents who have resource consent applications pending will no longer need a consent to remove or prune the trees."
Letters will be sent, advising them they can chop without council approval, she said.
Tree rules are unchanged in Auckland CBD, the Hauraki Gulf islands and former Waitakere, Manukau, Franklin and Papakura council areas, she said.
The Governments' proposed RMA changes would "further restrict all councils' ability to protect urban trees and would revoke most, if not all, the general protection rules across Auckland".
The Tree Council has for years sought to protect trees. It urges people to join its ranks, saying Auckland's trees are in danger, and encourages people to "give trees a voice".
Its Facebook page showed a pohutukawa by a garage chopped to the roofline, its multi-stemmed trunk still standing, which angered the Tree Council.
"Would have been better at ground level than to leave a magnificent pohutukawa in this state," it said.
"This is happening all around Auckland since January 1 this year when general tree protection was removed in certain residential zones. This is in Reihana St, Orakei, where houses reach well over $1 million.
"When will people become educated enough to realise that trees enhance neighbourhoods and all high-end market areas are well treed, for example, Remuera and Epsom?"
People accused of 'butchering' trees
Tree Council members are disillusioned and upset after Auckland blanket protection rules were scrapped last month.
Treasurer, membership secretary and community tree adviser Sherylle Scott said the changes were frustrating.
"It's a major battle. We're wearing a bit thin," Scott said.
Low attendance at education courses is just one sign of widespread disinterest in the issue, she said.
"We've tried to educate people but we hardly get anyone to our courses. I've done them for four or five years and we were down to seven people last year," she said.
She was reacting to Auckland Council signing an agreement with the Property Council to revoke protection of unscheduled trees on the North Shore, Rodney and on the isthmus, in return for not proceeding with an Environment Court challenge yesterday. The two organisations signed that agreement on December 21, axing Auckland's blanket tree protection rules.
Hueline Massey, Tree Council field officer, said she did not know of the blanket protection abolition and understood the rule change would come into effect later.
She is upset about what she called "open slather" on trees.
"We're horrified. People are butchering trees and that's really upsetting because those trees have been there for generations, but we can't object because it's legal.
"We find it disturbing - people's attitudes to things that have been there for a lot longer than they have been alive, particularly if they're moving into a new property and particularly removing scheduled trees," she said.
Tree Council membership is $20, or $15 for elderly people or those on a benefit, and members had sympathy for people suffering with a tree on their property, Massey said.
"But everyone's negative effect is different.
"Some will say the tree is heaving the footpath but that was probably made of unreinforced concrete and that's often the case with old driveways."
Leaf litter issues could be solved with gutter barriers and sunlight issues with branch thinning so problems were not insurmountable.
Only about 700 people made submissions to 2009 changes to the Resource Management Act, indicating widespread disinterest in tree protection issues, Scott said.