Sunday, January 3, 2016

An Urban Forest Strategy for Auckland

Since moving to NZ, living and working in and around Auckland I have witnessed the rapid erosion of environmental protection across our city. I have seen the consequences of the last seven years of changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) and in the last three years as part of The Tree Council here in Auckland I have been personally involved in arguing for a more robust and sustainable approach to tree protection in the Auckland Unitary Plan hearings.

Tree scapes like this in Albert Park central Auckland do NOT happen by accident this requires planning and adequate resourcing
I have read and heard many views on what needs to be done, and I am in agreement with many of those oft repeated arguments. Urgent review of tree-protection measures are needed

There are those both inside and outside council chambers that will argue that under the current regulatory framework of the eviscerated RMA that protection of urban trees is a lost and futile cause….I most definitely do NOT share this view.

I certainly do think that the past years of changes that have weakened the RMA should be reversed as soon as possible, without such reversals it is not possible for local councils to enact stronger tree protection through by-laws or enforcement. However whilst we are waiting for the rest of the country to wake up (or for this conservative government to reject the demands of the developers lobby) there are real concrete actions that local government can take to significantly improve the situation in their regions.

It is almost inconceivable to me that in 2016 AucklandNew Zealand’s biggest and fastest growing city has no documented plan for the future of its remarkable urban forest. Our trees define Auckland just as much as our twin harbours, in fact the two are inexorably linked since it is the trees which play a critical role in reducing not only the flow of stormwater into the sea but also in filtering out many of the most harmful pollutants which would otherwise have negative impacts on our valuable sea life.

Auckland's street trees deliver critical services every day of the year cleaning the air and the water in the urban environment

Why do we need a long term strategy for the management of trees in our urban areas?

At its most basic there is intense competition for space in every town and city and when it comes to planning the future growth of our urban areas there are competing values and objectives. 

Without recognition of their importance and their requirements for healthy growth trees consistently lose out in the competition for space
An Urban Forest Strategy can provide a clear and balanced approach to the management of the trees we already have, and the rational framework for the management of the trees we (and future generations) will need in the future.

Auckland needs a strategy that provides the vision and strategic direction for planning, planting, protecting and maintaining our trees within the municipal boundary regardless of land type or ownership. Auckland’s urban forest includes trees in private yards, street trees, park and reserve trees, woodlands, green space and wetlands.

Our remarkable urban forest is comprised of trees in all kinds of locations under public and private ownership
Auckland needs a strategy that extends beyond the tenure of any one council term, at least 20yrs (preferably 50yrs) with reviews carried out every five years.

Now more than ever we need to elevate the importance of the urban forest across our community, our elected representatives need to put real substance behind the soft statements repeated in the Auckland Unitary Plan which pay lip service to the values contained in this cities urban forest.

If Auckland is really going to be the liveable city as proclaimed by our civic leaders for the growing population that has been predicted then we have to retain and protect those living assets which make it a place where people want to live, work and play and in the process create an environment that is resilient to change.

Properly accommodating trees into new developments demands a commitment of resources over the life span of the trees not just within the short term profit margin of a development company
Our urban planning policies should incentivize developers to incorporate greater numbers of existing trees as well as new trees into proposed new developments. The core of any Urban Forest Strategy is to raise the importance of our urban trees among council officers, businesses, institutions and the general public so that trees are recognised as valuable infrastructure assets.

Our Auckland Council has the raw data required to deliver a comprehensive and up to date inventory of the urban forest, but as yet has no means to apply that information to maximise the performance of those assets.

An Urban Forest Strategy would clearly define the objectives of maintenance programs for existing trees and any new planting programs; incorporating the careful consideration of species, shape, stature and quality of planting stock. The strategy would deliver not just the right tree for the right place but ensure that sufficient soil volume and adequate soil quality is provided to each tree enable the growth of a healthy mature tree.

Without a strategy beautiful street scapes like this one which make Auckland a liveable city will become a thing of the past
Tried and tested blueprints for such a strategy can be found in many large metropolitan areas in Australia, Europe and America…there is no need to reinvent the wheel…we just need local politicians with the vision and foresight to start the process here and now in our city, in Auckland in 2016.

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