Just because pohutukawa trees prosper in Auckland's coastal setting is not a reason to treat them as a weed and hack them down when they get in the way of a road builder. Especially not six magnificent 80-year-old specimen street trees.

Like clockwork last Christmas, their crimson flowers erupted across the isthmus in spectacular fashion, reminding us once again what a liveable city we are lucky enough to dwell in. A reminder, too, why Mayor Len Brown and his council adopted the pohutukawa bloom as the Super City's logo.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of the road builders, even those who work for Auckland Transport (AT), the city's transport arm, an obstacle is an obstacle, to be swept aside so that more bitumen can be sprayed, whether or not the obstacle is the city's signature tree.

Since August 2013, the Waitemata Local Board and local residents have been engaged in a lengthy, costly and inevitably unequal battle with AT and the NZ Transport Agency to try to save the six large pohutukawa opposite Motat at the intersection of Great North Rd and St Lukes Rd.


What staggers me, is the man who aspires to lead the world's most liveable city has failed to leap to the defence of the threatened trees and say no.

These trees create a green oasis, separating Great North Rd from the Northwestern Motorway beyond. It's a pleasant extension of adjacent Western Springs greenery for passing motorists and pedestrians alike. However, this amenity value has been rejected by the road engineers, who are mesmerised by modelling predictions that by 2026, unless the bridge across the motorway from St Lukes and adjacent roadways are widened, the intersection will reach capacity and result in delays of up to seven minutes at peak time.

Their solution? A $70 million motorway interchange upgrade which, when Great North Rd is included, will create a 19-lane-wide expanse of asphalt, stretching from Western Springs Park across to the St Lukes Rd motorway off-ramp. Included in this blighted landscape will be the existing car park adjacent to the motorway, currently tucked in behind the trees.

All heart, the road builders are offering to plant some replacement trees further into the old parking area.

It reminds me of the Southwestern Motorway saga several years ago, when the road builders were fixated with ploughing through the side of Mt Roskill as the only solution to extending the roadway further west. They were adamant, regardless of the ruinous impact on the integrity of the precious maunga. It took a huge campaign - and political pressure - to finally persuade them to bend the motorway to the north, taking it around, rather than through, the mountain.

Today their reason for knocking down the trees is the need to find space for additional turning lanes - one a cycleway/footpath - on to the widened St Lukes Rd bridge. But instead of felling the trees, surely it would be possible to loop the new lanes around behind the trees and across the existing car park space? Alternatively, they could wait a decade to see if the predicted congestion occurred.

It's as though the expanded St Lukes interchange and the massive new Spaghetti Junction arising a kilometre or two further west are the Custer's Last Stand of Auckland's highway builders. Two last gasps. The 19-lane St Lukes project, in particular, like some belated Guinness Book of Records attempt.

Talk about a tale of two cities. In the city centre, Mayor Len Brown is full of praise for the urban forest concept which is slowly transforming the CBD environment. Nikau palms and other trees are popping up all over the place in "shared spaces", helping liberate city streets for pedestrians.


It's mirroring what Aucklanders have been doing in their own backyards, nowhere more so than in the suburbs around the St Lukes intersection, such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and Mt Albert. For decades now, people have been busily planting trees and shrubs in a bid to bring the bush into the city to attract birdlife, and create more enjoyable environments for all.

Even the motorway builders in recent times have entered into the spirit of it with mass planting of native bush along new motorways' fringes.

This just highlights what a lurch backwards the intended axing of the Western Springs pohutukawa represents. Liveable City champion Len Brown could stop it now. That's if he cares.