Although from 1 January this year you may have noticed the loss of a few trees around your neighborhood as the provision in the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 revoking general tree protection rules came into effect, in many cases the Auckland Council has determined that the general tree protection rules still apply.  

This is on the basis of an Environment Court declaration in 2011, which held that the general tree protection rules in the Auckland Plan will continue to apply in certain zones, where a tree or group of trees could be ‘specifically identified’ by location, reference to a named species in a defined area or zone, by reference to a class of trees with defined characteristics in a defined area or zone, or by reference to all trees in a named ecosystem, habitat or landscape. For example, in the Auckland City District Plan: Isthmus, the Auckland Council has confirmed that the trees in the Residential zones 1 to 4, open space or recreation zone, or within a coastal conservation area or significant ecological area, and where the tree is above specified height and girth measurements, form part of an identified ‘group’ and cannot be cut down without a resource consent.  

In addition to upholding these general tree protection rules, Auckland Council is also progressing plan changes to schedule individual trees and groups of trees. A further 1,800 trees are proposed to be added to the 3,960 trees currently identified in the tree schedules across the region.

The purpose of the amendment to the RMA to delete the general tree protection rules was to avoid the large number of resource consent applications that were being made to prune or remove trees in urban areas. The effect of the 2011 Environment Court declaration and the position taken by Auckland Council is that many trees are still protected even if they are not specifically identified in the District Plan. This caused some confusion with property owners in January and uncertainty if they could lawfully cut down trees on their property. Auckland Council is now advising property owners to contact the Council and ‘check before you chop’.  

However, further certainty and the ability to cut down your trees may be at hand. The Property Council of New Zealand has recently launched a further challenge in the Environment Court to Auckland Council's tree protection rules. The declaration proceedings seek an order that Auckland Council revoke the general tree protection rules on the grounds that they do not specifically identify any tree or group of trees, and do not fall within the specified exemptions (located within a reserve or subject to a conservation management plan or strategy). The declaration proceedings have been publicly notified to ensure members of the public who wish to become involved have the right to be heard. The period for s274 notices of interest closes on 18 April, and the hearing is likely to be held in June or July this year