Trees' fate may be fought out in court

By John Maslin


A legal challenge to stop work on Wanganui's Taupo Quay is being considered, with the group opposed to six plane trees' removal seeking a judicial review.

The Wanganui District Council voted six to five last week that the street work could proceed, which meant the trees, thought to be at least 120 years old, were doomed.

But on Friday the group fighting to save the trees told the council it was looking at filing for a judicial review of that decision.

A judicial review, by a judge of the High Court, determines whether a decision or action is unauthorised or invalid.

By late yesterday no proceedings had been filed.

Yesterday Mayor Annette Main said the council had talked with a lawyer representing a client interested in filing for a review.

"I've offered to meet with the lawyer and client to ensure all relevant information has been considered before the client makes a final decision on whether to proceed," Ms Main said.

As late as 10pm on Friday, one of the tree supporters, Cath Watson, emailed colleagues that a judicial review was contemplated.

Ms Watson said as well as telling the council of the group's notice of intent to file for a review, it had requested written assurance that the trees would remain until the review was completed.

The council agreed not to fell the trees at this stage.

The group would have filed for an injunction on Friday afternoon if the council had not given that assurance.

But an hour later Ms Main was sending out emails to the supporters saying she wanted to correct the information that the council had formally delayed beginning the work in Taupo Quay as a result of receiving notice of a judicial review.

"The council agreed to continue with the plan, provided assurance was received from Powerco that they would continue with plans to provide the back-up power needed for business confidence," she said.

"There isn't, and never was, any intention to remove any trees over the weekend. This could not have occurred, as I have not yet received the confirmation from Powerco that would enable the council's resolution to be actioned."

Meanwhile, Ms Watson said the group was accepting donations towards the cost of the legal action: "Hopefully, there will also now be time to build up the groundswell of opinion."

She said the council process had been "badly handled and manipulated" by council officers from the start.

At the heart of the issue is the fact the council invited those concerned with the plan to offer some alternatives and they believed a compromise had been brokered that could have saved three or four trees.

She said there was no indication to the group of any change of intent in the options they put to the council and on that basis they had felt no reason to be concerned. But by the time group members found it was on the council's January 27 agenda it was too late to apply to address that meeting.

Ms Watson said they believed council officers did not follow the council's own policy and notice was not given of the intention to remove the trees as required by its tree policy.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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