Two recent news stories highlight the threats faced by our urban forest.
The world-famous Paturoa Rd kauri had a new resident. Johno Smith decided to set up home in its branches after the chainsaws made an unexpected reappearance at the site.
He was there for over a week until the tree was ringbarked, putting the matter before the courts.
Meanwhile, in Margan Ave, New Lynn, concerned members of the community climbed the branches of two pohutukawa after nearby trees were felled to make way for new housing.
The stories have similar themes. In both cases approval to fell the trees was granted without formal notice given to the neighbours or the general public. You have to wonder at the weighting the decision-makers gave to the intrinsic benefit offered by the trees, because in both cases the trees are noteworthy in their own right.
It is not as if trees are not valued. In these post COP21 times, when there is a worldwide commitment to limiting global temperatures to 1.5C, the importance of trees as sequesters of carbon is well recognised. In Titirangi, which is essentially a forest interspersed with homes and buildings, trees not only give the area its special character but they add stability to its hills. Your neighbour cutting down his tree may not only reduce your amenity, it may also threaten the stability of your property.
In New Lynn, the Margan Ave pohutukawa have provided shelter and amenity in an area that is becoming increasingly urban. So what has gone wrong?
Changes to the Resource Management Act have played their part. The desire to "decrease red tape" and to "simplify" the process has led to changes that have reduced the need to notify applications. I believe this is retrograde.
A contested decision-making process, where alternative views are presented and the opinions of the experts are tested, can often result in an improved result.
Neighbours have a legitimate expectation to be advised of significant developments which, if not done properly, can affect their property.
And the removal of tree protection rules on urban residential properties has resulted in a number of prominent trees facing an untimely death. The sound of chainsaws and the disappearance of previously loved trees is becoming increasing regular phenomena.
In my opinion there are also problems with the way Auckland's planning rules are being applied.
The Margan Ave development is a special housing area development. This means an accelerated consent process and no notification of what is intended.
While speed is not necessarily bad, the default position should be that trees are retained unless there is good reason not to do so. The site is very large and the development could have been done in such a way that kept the trees.
In Britain, a planning authority is required by law to consider the protection and planting of trees when granting planning permission for a development. Auckland should have the same.
The Paturoa Rd kauri could have been saved if the construction of a smaller house had been consented to.
The Unitary Plan requires that the council avoids high-quality vegetation. Allowing a smaller area to be cleared would have saved the tree, which is now protected by an interim injunction so its eventual fate, if it survives the ringbarking, will be in the hands of the judiciary.
In my view, the pendulum has swung too far in favour of landowners and away from tree protection.
There are very good reasons for community protection of trees, whether because of amenity, site stability, carbon sequestration or providing a habitat for local fauna.
The incidents involving the Paturoa Rd kauri and the Margan Ave pohutukawa demonstrate that we need urgently to review our tree-protection measures.
• Greg Presland is a member of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board.