City's tree lovers to press MPs for rethink on controversial law changes

By Eloise Gibson

Auckland tree lovers will have less than an hour to convince MPs to reconsider controversial changes to tree laws when lawmakers come to hear the big city's views today.

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee is in Auckland for two days to hear oral submissions on a raft of sweeping changes to environment laws.

More than 100 people will address the committee on plans to hike court filing fees, to make it harder to challenge local planning rules and to reverse the presumption stating communities should have a say on local developments, among other things.

The Tree Council (Auckland) Incorporated will tell the committee that banning tree protection rules, as the Government plans to do, will leave trees in 700 of Auckland's 800 parks unprotected.

More than 80 of 840 written submissions before the committee are from people who want councils to keep their powers to protect trees of a certain type or size.

An administrator for the select committee said about 45 minutes had been allocated to hear concerns about trees.

Other groups, such as the Environmental Defence Society, are likely to raise tree issues as part of a wider submission.

The committee will sit for four days in Wellington, two in Auckland and one in Christchurch.

Tree protections have been a hot topic in Auckland, where six of seven councils have rules protecting trees of a certain size or type.

Homeowners have complained the rules make it too difficult and expensive to cut down even unimportant trees on their properties.

Under the Resource Management Act (Simplifying and Streamlining) Bill, landowners will be able to cut down any tree that is not in a reserve or listed in a district plan schedule.

Most Auckland trees are not listed and tree protection groups say listing trees individually would be too time-consuming and costly.

New Zealand Arboricultural Association vice-president Lisa Sanderson said arborists would offer to work with the select committee to make existing tree rules cheaper and easier to use as an alternative to banning them.

HEARING AUCKLAND'S VIEWS

*What: 114 people and groups have their say on changes to the Resource Management Act.
*When: Today and tomorrow.
*Who is listening: Local Government and Environment Select Committee, which will report back to Parliament.
*Where: Jean Batten Room, Centra Airport Hotel, Mangere.

THE ISSUES

*Plans to scrap rules protecting trees of a certain size or type.
*Fee to lodge an appeal in the Environment Court to rise from $55 to $500.
*Rules to make it harder to challenge planning rules in court.
*Bigger fines for people who break environmental laws.
*Councils to reduce fees if late processing resource consents.
*Plans to delay when new council rules take effect.
*Fewer categories of planning consents.
*Applicants for resource consent may skip council hearings and go straight to court.

- NZ Herald

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