Talks are underway to bring back tree protection rules following numerous cases of mature native trees being felled and poisoned for housing and sea views in Auckland.
Auckland Council and the Government are discussing a proposal to give the council greater ability to protect trees, but not go as far as the previous blanket ban that the National government abolished in 2013.
That left just 6000 to 7000 "notable" trees protected in Auckland and every other urban tree at the mercy of the chainsaw.
Under a proposal discussed by councillors behind closed doors, resource consent would be required to cut down trees above a certain height, but not for pruning and trimming.
The rules would only apply to native trees, but not natives like manuka or kanuka.
Applications would weigh up the benefits and costs of keeping the tree against any proposed housing development. If removal is approved, applicants may have to plant new trees or contribute to a planting fund.
It is envisaged any changes would be made under the Government's resource management reforms and that Environment Minister David Parker is open to the idea on the proviso there is a balance between the old rules and status quo.
The council proposal comes amid growing public concern with the current rules, which allowed the development company Manson to fell a 120-year-old pōhutukawa tree in Khyber Pass at 11 o'clock at night this month.
In other cases, Birkenhead residents are up in arms over the removal and poisoning of several native trees to improve harbourside views. Last month, four rimu and totara trees were poisoned and in March a scheduled pōhutukawa tree was chopped down.
A spokesman for Goff said the council proposal of a protected category of trees by species, size and age being subject to obtaining a resource consent would stop the pre-emptive or arbitrary removal of trees enabled by the current situation.
"The mayor believes this option would be significantly more efficient and cost-effective than the current settings and provide the general protections for trees that are categorised as notable or significant.
"Adding individual trees to the notable tree register is slow, expensive and does not provide the level of protection necessary," the spokesman said.
Goff indicated through his spokesman he has no intention to use any of $1 billion to be raised through a proposed new climate tax to add trees to the notable tree registrar.
The "climate action targeted rate", expected to raise $574m from ratepayers over 10 years and unlock a further $471m from government sources, will fund the planting of 15,000 mature native trees in urban areas.
"Rather than asking ratepayers to foot the bill for a protection framework that only protects a tiny minority of trees, the council is calling on Government to put robust general protections for mature trees in place as quickly as possible," the spokesman said.
A Tree Council spokesman, Mark Lockhart, said the council would be more than happy to look at ways of adding a layer of tree protection that isn't as restrictive as the previous rules.
"Previously the rules were too onerous and not managed well," he said.
Lockhart agreed on the need to balance protecting trees and providing housing, but said it had to be done using a professional and informed process.
"I think most people do appreciate the need for housing, but the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction. We can have both but there are some trees that should be protected for the sake of our visual environment and the city's amenity," he said.
Lockhart said Goff is forever falling back on central government over getting tree protection rules reinstated, which is disingenuous because the council does have a way of protecting trees by adding trees to the notable tree schedule in the Unitary Plan.
"Arguably that magnificent Khyber Pass tree would not have been removed because in the last 10 years there is a pretty good chance it would have been scheduled," he said.
Last month, the Tree Council lodged a judicial view in the High Court over the council's failure to process any of 587 trees nominated for "notable" status and protection in the Unitary Plan.
It obtained legal advice that the council has a legal obligation to maintain the notable trees schedule and by refusing to fund and undertake this work the council is failing in their legal duty.
A lawyer for the Tree Council, Michael Lloyd, told council chief executive Jim Stabback in a July letter "not a single tree or group of trees has been added to schedule 10 by Auckland Council, in the 11 years of its existence".