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Neighbours protest as giant trees felled

Posted at 4:19pm Tuesday 04 Aug, 2020

Recently the felling of 30 native trees in Avondale made headlines when Green Party candidate and activist Steve Abel and others got involved.

At the same time, something very similar was happening in Millwater with more than 50 residents protesting.

Around 20 trees, including many mature natives – some estimated at 80-100 years old – were felled last week by developer WFH Properties. They were on a 3.1ha site in Bankside Road which is being prepared for subdivision into around 30 houses – one of the last sites to be developed in Millwater.

The land is the final part of the farm owned by the Bartlett family. Former owner Vera Bartlett says the sale is very recent. WFH had an interest in the property for some time but agreed Vera could remain there as long as she wanted. She moved into Hibiscus Coast Village towards the end of last year and contractors arrived on the site on July 24 to begin felling trees – a process that took several days.

Vera, 85, says the trees were planted by her brother Ken, their father Frank and grandparents and some are very old. Both Frank and Ken were keen amateur botanists and “loved everything related to trees”, Vera says.

She is sad that the trees – and the house built in 1890 – are gone, but says she accepted sometime ago that this would happen. “That's the way life is,” she says.

Neighbours, on the other hand, say the felling came as a shock – they knew the site would be developed, but not when.

Janina Becker lives directly behind the property and an oak tree, estimated to be 100 years old, frames the view from her backyard. “I wanted to buy the piece of land with the oak on it, but WFH weren't interested,” Janina says. “Two pairs of kereru nest there, and feed on the nearby puriri tree.”

She says the trees mean there is a lot of birdlife in this part of Millwater. When the felling began, she started a petition to try and save the trees, which in only a few days had 56 signatures.

Two members of the McFarlane family were among those who signed. Lynnette McFarlane says her father was a friend of Ken Bartlett. “It would break my father's heart to see what's happened,” she says.

Other comments in the petition say that the trees are an asset to the neighbourhood and could be incorporated into the new subdivision. “No more trees should go. Learn to work around them. Their loss makes the neighbourhood an uglier, less healthy place to live,” one person commented.

WFH Properties consultant Warren Frogley says specialised consultants and arborists assessed all the trees some time ago and confirmed that the developer is within its rights to fell whatever it wants.

“This is a permitted activity under the Unitary Plan,” he says. “While every attempt is made to keep trees of significance, not all can be kept. Some that have been kept include those planted by the original land owners, John and Martha Blake, which are now part of the reserve on Blake Greens.”

He says the resource consent for the next stage of this development is in the process of being lodged with Council.


Fastest falling trees in Auckland
The felling in Millwater comes as Auckland Council discusses what it needs to do to increase the ‘tree canopy coverage' in the region.

Its Urban Ngahere (Forest) Strategy was discussed at an Environment and Climate Change Committee meeting on July 21.

The report makes it clear that this area has had the biggest loss of tree canopy cover in Auckland, measured in hectares, in recent years.

The Hibiscus & Bays Local Board area had a net loss of 125ha of tree canopy cover in the 2013-2018 period. This was by far the highest, with the next closest being an 82ha loss.

It represents a net loss of 1.2 percent, leaving Hibiscus & Bays' tree canopy coverage at 24 percent of the overall land area.

The average for the Auckland region is 18 percent cover and the Council aims to increase this to 30 percent. 

Around 70 percent of local tree cover is on private land, with the remainder in parks and reserves, roads and other public sites such as Ministry of Education land.

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