Queen Street trees' last minute reprieve

By Bernard Orsman, Derek Cheng

Howls of condemnation have forced the Auckland City Council to cancel the so-called "Queen St massacre" of exotic trees for natives on the day work started on a $30 million upgrade of the Golden Mile.

Late yesterday Mayor Dick Hubbard announced a plan to assess each of the 20 tagged exotic trees that could result in some trees being removed or relocated.

"If they have to go they will be replaced with exotic trees that will be superior to the original trees because the tree pits will be larger and will allow for better tree growth," he said.

Mr Hubbard said the council would not remove exotics to plant natives in their place but said natives would still be featured. The council had planned to gradually remove exotics for natives.

"The clear message from the people of Auckland is they want both exotics and natives; exotics for shade and greenery but they like the idea of clumps of natives to get a bit of a South Pacific feel," said Mr Hubbard.

This is the third central city flip-flop by the council in six months. The paving fiasco in Vulcan Lane dragged on for three months. This was followed by the row over the tiled suffragette centenary memorial in Khartoum Place.

Now the showpiece Queen St project has turned into a public relations disaster for the council.

Mr Hubbard said there were deficiencies by officers to do with Vulcan Lane and Khartoum Place, but he did not believe there were shortcomings by officers with the trees in Queen St.

"The politicians were pretty well briefed all the way through and we realise now there was an under-estimation of the public desire for exotic-type trees that provide degrees of shade in Queen St," he said.

Mr Hubbard and the chief organiser of Save Auckland Trees, Lesley Max, have agreed to select three independent arborists to assess each of the 20 tagged trees between Mayoral Drive and Wellesley St. The arborists will report to Mr Hubbard by January 14.

A moratorium on tree removal will stand until January 19. The council will receive a report on each tree and decide what to do at a special meeting in mid-January.

Many of the threatened trees had been planted "on the cheap" 20 to 25 years ago, put in shallow holes and poorly maintained, Mr Hubbard said.

He warned that the health of the trees was only part of the problem. Some trees, such as the liquidambar outside the Methodist Mission Chapel, were in the way of new canopies.

But last night Ms Max told the Herald the council was getting ahead of itself with the latest plan.

"I didn't agree to it, and I don't have the right to without consulting my fellow plaintiffs and our lawyer."

She said the proposal was "interesting" and the group would meet tomorrow to discuss it.

Meanwhile, the Queen St upgrade has brought temporary changes for bus passengers. For details visit Maxx online.

Central city flip-flops

* Vulcan Lane: Council proposes tearing up original red pebble pavers for bluestone. Fashion leaders and the public force a backdown after a three-month fight.

* Khartoum Place: Council plans to tear down or remove tiled suffragette centenary memorial but backs off after upsetting women's groups, Women's Affairs Minister Lianne Dalziel and several prominent Dames.

* Queen St: Council tags 20 exotic trees to be replaced by natives. A public outcry produces a u-turn within three weeks.

-Additional reporting: Derek Cheng

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