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Maunga tree protection group delighted at judicial decision

Honour the Maunga says it is “over the moon” at yesterday’s judicial decision, which has put a halt to Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s plans to rid Auckland’s volcanic cones (maunga) of exotic trees without first consulting the public. In all, the ratepayer funded co-governance body plans to rid the city’s maunga of around 2500 non-native trees, so this decision has implications for all maunga.

Ōwairaka’s trees would have come down in November 2019 had Honour the Maunga not intervened. Two members of the public Averil and Warwick Norman, who are not associated with the group, then learned of the tree-felling plans and were so concerned that they initiated a judicial review and subsequent appeal.

The unanimous Court of Appeal judgment concluded that, although the Authority was within its rights to remove the exotic trees, it had acted unlawfully by failing to comply with its consultation obligations under the Reserves Act. The decision also concluded Auckland Council acted unlawfully by not publicly notifying the tree felling resource consent under the Resource Management Act.

Honour the Maunga had until now maintained a peaceful daily presence (Covid permitting) at Ōwairaka for a total of 815 days. More recently, Shirley Waru (Te Rarawa o Ngāphui / Te Uri o Tai) formed the Respect Mt Richmond / Otāhūhu tree protection group, which publicly stated its intention to occupy that maunga should the Authority move to fell its 443 non-native trees.

Honour the Maunga’s leader Anna Radford says the past two years have been incredibly tough, but the judicial decision has made the effort worthwhile. “This is a win for the people of Auckland, a huge number of whom can’t bear the thought of thousands of healthy mature trees being destroyed during a climate emergency. She says the Authority has acted in very poor faith in many ways, including ongoing misleading claims it had consulted the public about its intention to rid the maunga of all exotic trees. The judicial decision vindicates what Honour the Maunga has always said about the lack of consultation. “They were hoping to sneak in and fell Ōwairaka’s trees before anyone could do anything about it, just like they did at Mangere Mountain, Mt Wellington and Pigeon Mountain but they under-estimated the people of Mt Albert. “Since then, we have been supported by thousands of Aucklanders from all ethnicities and walks of life. We welcome the opportunity for consultation so that people can actually have their say on what is clearly a very unpopular and deeply divisive decision.”

Ms Radford notes Tūpuna Maunga Authority has no intention to cloak Auckland’s maunga in trees. Should the exotics go, then the end result will be largely bare, barren looking maunga with a few patches of mostly small plants. The Authority’s planting plans and plantings to date show mostly low-growing grasses, flaxes and shrubs are to go in areas that are mostly free of exotic trees. Leaving the exotics in place will not affect the native planting programme and will provide many environmental benefits while the new plantings grow to maturity.