Protesters are planning to take action to stop the removal of 13 pines trees in Auckland's Western Springs tomorrow.
Members of Greenpeace, Forest & Bird and Occupy Garnet Rd plan to occupy the back sections of three houses in West View Rd where Auckland Council has asked residents to evacuate for safety reasons while the trees are removed.
Occupy Garnet Rd spokeswoman Lisa Prager said the protesters have been asked to help the residents stop what she described as wilful damage.
It shouldn't be too much to ask to have that transparency
The action follows Auckland Council putting work on hold for 24 hours while officers talk with affected neighbours. Contractors are due to begin work at 8am tomorrow removing 13 pine trees considered to be an immediate risk of falling.
In a letter circulated to affected residents last evening, the council said the work is taking place under WorkSafe tree felling rules which requires people to vacate their homes.
The council said it would be flexible about people coming and going from their homes - it takes between 20 and 60 minutes to remove each tree - but said work on trees that risk falling on neighbouring properties will not take place while the properties are occupied.
Lynette Forday, who lives at one of the affected homes in West View Rd, said she had no plans to evacuate her four children and a kitten while the trees are felled.
Auckland Council is using emergency powers to chop down the 13 pines trees as residents accuse council of flouting its own resource consent process.
Council's acting head of operations Simon Randall yesterday said he understood the concerns of residents and work will be delayed for 24 hours to hold talks.
Due to the seriousness of the risk, Randall said, the 13 dead and dying trees will be felled under the emergency provisions of the Unitary Plan. This did not circumvent a separate resource consent application to clearfell all 200 remaining pine trees in a 3.2ha block behind Western Springs lake, he said.
Lawyer Deborah Manning, who lives in one of three houses in West View Rd that needs to be evacuated while the trees are removed, said the council's approach is unfortunate.
"I cannot see how it makes any difference. There are strong issues of fact in dispute, namely safety issues and the need for emergency measures. I consider these need resolving with a clear, rational and transparent approach," she said.
She and Waitemata councillor Mike Lee have accused the council of not following due process under the Resource Management Act.
Manning said the decision to cut down the 13 trees comes in the same week planning commissioners have asked the council to answer questions over removing all 200 pine trees.
Tree Council spokeswoman Mels Barton has contacted councillors and members of Waitemata Local Board saying she is extremely concerned that Auckland Council is hijacking the RMA process by using emergency powers under the Unitary Plan to fell the pines this week.
She stressed that no one is disputing that the pines need to be removed.
"But the point of the notified consent process is to publicly agree the best way to achieve that. Short cutting that process for 13 of these trees and not communicating exactly why and what has changed since the hearing to make that action necessary is all that the residents are asking. It shouldn't be too much to ask to have that transparency," Barton said.
Forest & Bird Auckland regional manager Nick Beveridge said it was unacceptable to use the emergency provisions to remove 13 trees now because it was in the middle of the bird breeding season.
He said the ecological report done for council as part of the consent application to remove all 200 pine trees said "all tree works should take place outside of the bird breeding and nesting season" between August and February.
Mike Wilcox, a retired professional forester and urban botanist, said the pines at Western Springs are the oldest big stand of pines in Auckland at nearly 100 years old.
Wilcox said he had been in Western Springs and from what he could see the trees had stopped growing years ago, are stagnating, dying on their feet and dying one-by-one.
About 300 pines have already been removed or died in the past 20 years, and 62 per cent of the remaining "are either dead, have heavily reduced canopies, have sustained damage by fire or are visually displaying poor health", according to council.
Wilcox said there had been lots of reports by competent arborists into the pines at Western Springs in recent years, but it was news to him that suddenly 13 have become immediately hazardous and cannot wait for the planned general felling.
Another issue, he said, is the question of the logging and native vegetation under the pines being wiped out. The area is designated a Significant Ecological Area.