7 Feb 2016

Call to save Christchurch trees

3:15 pm on 7 February 2016

Christchurch residents are urging the council to save more than 1500 heritage and notable trees from being delisted and losing protection in the city's plan.

Lime Trees Chch

Previously protected lime trees in Christchurch that are off the list proposed by the council. Photo: supplied

A group of advocates for the trees is raising money through a "give a little" campaign for a legal challenge to the proposal.

Some trees listed as notable under the current Christchurch District Plan, will not be protected under the proposed Christchurch Replacement District Plan.

The new law, which is being fast-tracked under earthquake recovery legislation, would change planning rules to make it easier to develop property, reducing the number of protected trees by 80 percent.

Mark Belton is a professional forester and advocate for heritage trees.

He told Radio New Zealand's Sunday Morning programme that Christchurch had the greatest variety of trees of any city on the planet.

"A lot of those trees are on private land and that's where the worst effects of this change are - the removal of protections on private land.

"It's all about facilitation of development, but the question you must ask is, development for what?"

Another opponent of the rule change, Barbara Stewart, said the council was considering reducing the number of protected trees from 1900 to just 380.

She said after losing so many old buildings to the earthquakes, the city's trees were one of its few remaining connections to the past.

Ms Stewart described removing the trees' protection as a man-made disaster.

A Christchurch City Council spokesperson said hearings on the future of the trees are scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday and a decision would be made once all the evidence had been heard.

Plan questioned last year

In August last year, critics said hundreds of protected trees on private property in Christchurch were at risk of being cut down under the Christchurch Replacement District Plan.

David Compton-Moen, a landscape architect, said established trees on private property must be protected.

As Canterbury chair of the Institute of Landscape Architects, he said people got a great deal of enjoyment out of large, established trees.

Mr Compton-Moen said it was especially concerning because of the level of development happening in Christchurch since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

The proposed Christchurch Replacement District Plan listed only 380 trees, plus a few more in four groups, in the Schedule of Significant Trees, compared to the 1900 protected trees currently listed.

The proposed change meant property owners could fell once-protected trees without a resource consent.

City Planning Unit Manager Brigitte de Ronde said a 2014 assessment found the health of some trees had deteriorated or their shapes had been altered by storm damage or pruning.

She said, however, that an increase in council-owned trees in the list meant that overall more trees would be protected.

The council's website states that the rules in the City Plan "are aimed at the retention, as far as possible, of the city's stock of trees which are of special significance".

There are two categories of listed trees: heritage trees and notable trees, with heritage trees receiving the highest level of protection.

Victoria Square revamp rejected

In June 2015, Christchurch residents rejected a proposed $7 million revamp of the city's Victoria Square.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's plans to redesign the square sparked a backlash from residents, heritage advocates and city councillors.

The plan included moving historical statues, removing trees and altering the layout of the central city landmark.

Victoria Square in 2009 (file photo).

Victoria Square in 2009 (file photo). Photo: Wikicommons

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