Honour the Maunga group happy top court declined to hear Ōwairaka trees appeal

By Deborah LaHatte

The community group fighting to save 345 trees on Ōwairaka / Mt Albert says the Supreme Court has done the right thing in denying the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s request to appeal a judicial decision around the proposed tree felling.

The Supreme Court yesterday said it denied the authority leave to appeal because: “We do not see that the [judicial] decision affects the integrity or efficacy of the Tāmaki collective settlement or co-governance arrangements generally”.

The authority had sought leave to appeal a Cout of Appeal ruling.

The appeal court had found the authority 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. Auckland Council accepted the decision and did not apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Honour the Maunga community group says the decision has vindicated its tree-saving actions – “something the group has been heavily criticised for in some quarters”.

Tree-felling on three maunga

“We always knew to be untrue the authority’s repeated claims to have consulted with the public over its intention to rid Ōwairaka and other maunga of all exotic trees, and it is heartening to know the highest court in the land agrees,” Honour the Maunga spokeswoman Anna Radford said.

She said the ratepayer-funded co-governance body planned to rid the city’s maunga of 2500 non-native trees, so the Supreme Court’s decision had implications for all maunga. At present there are live non-notified resource consents for mass tree fellings on Puketāpapa / Mt Roskill, Ōtāhuhu / Mt Richmond and Te Tātua a Riukiuta / Big King.

“Although the judicial decisions expressly applies to Ōwairaka, it would be extraordinarily cynical of the authority and Auckland Council to ignore these judicial findings in relation to mass tree fellings on other maunga,” Radford said.

Ratepayers had funded the authority and council’s legal defences to the tune of $1 million plus GST, so further legal action relating to other maunga would come at further cost to ratepayers.

Ms Radford noted the judicial decision had left the door open for trees to be felled in future provided the consultation obligations were met.

'Work with communities'

“Naturally, we are hoping it won’t come to that because environmentally friendly succession to fully native vegetation on the maunga requires it to be done over a long period.”

She encouraged the authority to “stop fighting against local communities and instead work with them”.

“We hope the authority’s members – particularly its six elected Auckland Council representatives - take stock and consider what kind of relationship the authority wants to have with Aucklanders.  We therefore encourage the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to engage in accordance with the following principles:

  • Put the natural environment at the front and centre, and consider all decisions from the standpoint of what is best for it;
  • Good-faith engagements that are authentic;
  • Engagement to be by way of face-to-face two-way discussions conducted in a mutually respectful manner;
  • Any engagement relating to tree felling should be chaired by an independent third party, given local communities’ lack of trust in the authority and Auckland Council.”

Meanwhile, Auckland Council co-governance spokesman said the Tūpuna Maunga Authority would take advice on the implications of the court’s decision for the Tūpuna Maunga restoration programme.

"It is noted the Court of Appeal did not decide against tree removal, rather the legal process to be followed."