Auckland Tree Protection Rules – What you need to know

Auckland Tree Protection Rules – What you need to know

CHECK BEFORE YOU CHOP on 09 301 0101.

They say that a camel is a horse that was designed by committee.  Well, the Parliamentary select committee, the Minister for the Environment, Members of Parliament, The Environment Court, Council Officers, Local Board members, Council’s Regional Development Committee, their lawyers and various professional and interest groups, including NZ Arbor, have all had their say on how the ban on ‘blanket tree protection’ should be implemented in Auckland. As a result Auckland’s new tree protection rules are definitely more camel than horse, although given the way the process has unfolded and the need to adhere to various existing documents and rulings, this was probably inevitable.  Council’s officers have done their best to come up with rules that protect the city’s high value trees and treed areas until such time as the new ‘unitary’ District Plan for all of Auckland is implemented.  However it is not known how long this will take and as it will encompass all the planning rules for the entire city we can hope and expect that the process won’t be rushed.  

So for now Council’s main message to the public is to ‘CHECK BEFORE YOU CHOP’ either by visiting or by calling their hotline for advice on 09 301 0101.  However, those working in the arboricultural industry will need to develop a good understanding of the rules and will no doubt be expected by their clients to provide accurate advice that ensures they (and you) avoid any infringement action.  So here goes:

January 1st saw the end of ‘blanket’ protection as we knew it.  However, there are six situations where some form of tree protection will STILL APPLY, capturing a considerable number of trees and sites throughout the city.  If the tree you are considering falls in to any one of those six categories then it is BUSINESS AS USUAL and the previously existing rules applicable to that tree / site, if any, will remain in force.  Remember that more than one of these exceptions may apply, in which event you need to adhere to the higher level of protection (as has always been the case).  They are as follows:

  1. Scheduled / notable / heritage trees or groups of trees that are identified and listed in the various District Plans.

  1. Trees in areas where there is an additional level of protection relating to trees, such as ‘cliffline tree amenity areas’ significant ecological areas, riparian margins and so on.

  1. Trees that are protected by a condition of a previously granted resource consent (e.g. replacement trees that were required as a condition of a consent).

  1. Trees that are protected by a consent notice or covenant on the property title.

  1. Trees that are growing outside the ‘urban environment’1.

  1. Trees in specific planning zones2 where the old rules will be retained because they support the objectives of the zone.

There is no change to how you would treat a scheduled tree (1) or a tree on a site with additional tree rules (2).  This information is in the relevant district plans, planning maps and appendices.  Be aware that, Auckland wide, approximately 1800 additional trees are being considered for addition to the schedules.  The property owner should be aware if this is the case so it would be prudent to ask them.

It is strongly recommended that you take all reasonable steps to investigate whether (3) or (4) applies to a site you are planning to work on.  To do this you are likely to need to contact Council (09 301 0101) although your client may have access to some information, either on their copy of the property title or copies of consents they have previously been granted.  Your level of liability for any mistakes may depend on the efforts you have made to get this information.

1 The ‘Urban Environment’

The changes to general tree protection only apply to ‘urban’ sites.  For our purposes, an ‘urban’ site is not necessarily one located in a built-up area but is one that meets ALL the following criteria, regardless of its location:

  • The site is less than 4000 m2 in size and

  • It is connected to both a town water supply and a town sewer and

  • It contains a residential house or a commercial / industrial building.

Therefore many sites do not qualify as ‘urban’ and so the relevant existing tree rules will still apply.  This exception captures many schools and hospitals, golf courses, the road reserve, parks, areas of bush, vacant lots, larger residential lots and lots supplied by roof water or with a septic tank.

2 Specific planning zones

Council’s lawyers have been through all nine existing District Plans that are operative within the Supercity.  In six of them, they identified specific planning zones that need to retain their existing levels of ‘general’ tree protection to achieve the desired outcomes of the zone.  (This requirement is in accordance with an Environment Court decision provided earlier in the year).  This is applicable to the following zones, where ‘general’ protection will be retained, whether the site is classified as urban or not:

  • Auckland Isthmus    Residential Zones 1 to 4

  • Manukau                 Residential Zone 4

  • North Shore            Residential Zones 1 to 6

  • Papakura                Residential Zone 4

  • Rodney                   All residential zones except the ‘Residential High Intensity Zone’

  • Waitakere               Managed Natural Area Zone and the ‘Bush Living’ Human Environment Zone

For these districts, in any zone not listed above ‘general’ protection is lifted, provided the site qualifies as ‘urban’ (though a lot of sites won’t).  In the remaining three districts of the city no specific planning zones were identified where the rules would be retained, however existing levels of protection will remain unchanged throughout those districts in any case, for the reason provided:

  • Auckland Central Area    General protection only applies to the road reserve, which is not classified as urban and therefore is not affected by the changes.

  • Franklin                        There is no general protection in Franklin, only a schedule of notable trees (which is unaffected by the changes).

  • Hauraki Gulf Islands      There is no land classified as ‘urban’ within the islands due to the lack of a reticulated water or sewer network, so all existing tree rules remain in place.

Believe it or not, these new rules will allow much greater scope for carrying out tree works without the need for a resource consent, at least in certain parts of the city, as large chunks of the urban area will have their protection lifted.  However it will by no means be open slather, despite the common public perception to the contrary.  We can all play a part in dispelling this impression and helping to protect Auckland’s urban forest by implementing the new rules and providing accurate advice on them when asked.