A month ago, Mayor Phil Goff was triumphantly tweeting "we've planted 648,041 trees" and will "definitely be cracking" his election pledge to plant a million by the end of his first term in October. Trying to keep up, his bureaucrats have finally released a glossy "Auckland's Urban Ngahere (forest) Strategy" to justify all this digging.
The aim is to nearly double the average tree canopy coverage over Auckland from 18 per cent to 30 per cent. First priority will be the southern suburbs of Mangere-Otahuhu and Otara-Papatoetoe, where current coverage is only 8-9 per cent.
The document admits it's rather light on detail, but at least it's a start. As it confesses, after nearly nine years in existence, Auckland Council had no "clear framework for the management of Auckland's urban ngahere". This despite growing evidence that as population intensification increases, the city's treescape has been an early victim. Particularly so after the last National Government, in 2015, removed the blanket urban tree protection provisions of the Resource Management Act.
An alarming report to the Waitemata local board last September revealed a 17 per cent decrease in tree cover in the central city ward over the 10 years to February 2016. The digital-photo analysis calculated 61.23ha of tree canopy had been removed over the previous decade, totalling at least 12,879 individual trees. The most affected areas were Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Westmere — areas of rapid gentrification and speculation.
After a long hot summer, one of the self-evident benefits of the urban forest is, of course, the shade it provides for those of us lucky to live in tree-lined streets. But trees provide many other benefits, including the removal of pollution from the atmosphere, ecological corridors across the isthmus for birds and insects, and helping control water during storms.
Big trees can also be a pain in the urban dweller's backside when planted inappropriately. Which is why National got away with the draconian measure of replacing the previous over the top tree protection laws — with nothing.
In Auckland City under the old regime, for example, once a native tree reached a height of 6m or circumference of just 0.6m, it automatically became a protected tree. An exotic tree had to reach 8m or 0.8m to gain similar status.
With around 61 per cent of Auckland's urban forest on private property, and now, in general, unprotected, the bureaucrats are conceding they need to join in partnership with home-owners to make their new policy work.
That being the case, could I suggest, a major shortcoming is the lack of prescription contained within the dream. If the mayor and his team want to intensify the existing urban forest from 18 per cent coverage to 30 per cent, that's going to mean upwards of twice as many trees dotting the front and backyards of suburban Auckland.
So unless there are some neighbour-friendly regulations introduced to govern what gets planted and where, I predict disquiet rather than warm-fuzzies breaking out in the new Goff Jungle.
The problem with the old protection regime was that in its bid to protect aged urban icons, it lumped in the more recently planted kauri or totara or Norfolk pines, stupidly planted in suburban yards to cause grief to the next door neighbour. They soon became sacrosanct.
There's a kauri down my street, now topping its villa, and tucked in alongside the front wall, presumably planted by a hippy owner after a trip to the bush back in the 70s. Crazy. And much closer to home, some landscaper plonked a Karaka against my north-west facing back fence a year ago. It's already 3 metres high and can reach 15m.
Meanwhile, around the corner there's a 30-year plus Norfolk pine outside the local petrol station. They can grow to 60m. That's if the roots don't puncture the underground tanks and blow us all sky high.
Council is asking for input. Mine is simple. Require any new urban tree on private property to observe for its life the same height and boundary rules that govern the built additions on the site. Apples and lemons and flowering cherries by all means. But leave kauri and karaka and puriri for the parks.