Hastings District Council's proposed destruction of a Havelock North woodland by removing young oak trees, in the name of risk mitigation, is a shocker.
Hastings District Council's draft plan for Keirunga provides detail on the recommended removal, replacement and future management of the woodland known as the Arthur's Path Gully.
The proposal is to remove around 40 oaks and 50 other trees. Many of the trees were planted by George Nelson in the 1930s. He gifted the land to the community.
Locals who visit the gully often say council has undermanaged the oaks at Keirunga Gardens. But an expert view by an experienced Wairarapa based arborist Richie Hill says the oaks are not near end-of-life as councils' draft plan says, and most can be successfully managed. He says the oaks at 80 years old are just getting going, they are pups.
The expert view is the Keirunga oaks have at least another 50 years with low risks to people. Signage could be used to assist safety, alongside council inspections after storms.
Trees can be dangerous as are roads and bodies of water. People accept and manage risks every day. As an arborist friend says: "There is no such thing as a safe tree."
If felling 40 Keirunga Gardens oaks is justified in the name of risks management, then we should expect many fewer mature trees at Tainui Reserve, Tauroa Gully, Te Mata Park, Pakowhai Park, Frimley Park, Flaxmere Park, Hawke's Bays' Show Grounds and places like the Maraetotara Falls.
These are only a few of the parks and public places with big trees – some are over 100 years in the making and some nationally significant.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council, if following suit, may need to close public access to rivers or remove unsafe willows. DoC may need to close bush tracks on windy days. What a farce this would be. Maybe next would be pedestrian underpasses for CBDs.
Botanists say the oak has not reached old age until about 700 years and 1000 years is the life potential. Parks and woodlands in England hold oaks 300 years old and older. They are frequented public places.
Landowners who buy next to longstanding trees in public parks have few grounds to complain.
They could reverse their purchase and move elsewhere. There are no acceptable grounds for councils enabling private landowner property value windfalls at the expense of park users and the wider community.
Christchurch City Council tried this in 2016 proposing to delist 1531 heritage trees on private and council land. It failed because unprotecting significant trees was successfully opposed by public.
The transfer of community collective value to private landowners is something Hastings District Council ought to be keenly sidestepping.
Risk is a relative thing – how risky is too risky? Felling the 80-year-old oaks to replace them with 2-year-old trees is unjustifiable. The value of existing trees to biodiversity, the environment and people far outweighs the minute risks posed by a beautiful stand of historic oaks that are relatively young.
Submissions to council on the Keirunga oaks' fate are now set to close on March 15. In the meantime, council has commissioned an independent arborist's report.
Councils cannot do whatever they like because they work for us. It will be elections soon and we will be entitled to know how councillors voted on the Keirunga oaks' future.
* Pat Turley is current volunteer chair of Maraetōtara Tree Trust and principal of valuation and property strategy company Turley & Co.