Joint media statement by Honour the Maunga and Respect Mt Richmond Ōtāhuhu
Leaders of two community groups fighting to prevent Tūpuna Maunga Authority from felling all exotic trees on Ōwairaka Mt Albert and Ōtāhuhu Mt Richmond say the Authority’s response to a recent public consultation offers concessions but lacks meaningful specifics to back them up.
The Authority undertook the consultation in response to the Court of Appeal unanimously finding it had acted unlawfully for failing to consult over its intentions to fell Ōwairaka’s 345 non-native trees, and Auckland Council acted unlawfully for issuing a non-notified resource consent on the basis the effects would be “less than minor”.
Last year, Māori woman Shirley Waru, leader of the Respect Mt Richmond Ōtāhuhu group, publicly announced her intention to lead an occupation at Ōtāhuhu if the Authority moves to fell its 443 exotic trees.
The consultation focused on the Authority’s intention to remove the non-native trees from those two maunga and also Puketāpapa Mt Roskill and Te Tatua a Riukiuta Big King, and also referenced removing native trees in some circumstances.
The Authority’s consultation response was delivered on 11 November, three years to the day since the Honour the Maunga community group occupied that maunga to prevent the felling.
Honour the Maunga’s Anna Radford said there were serious questions over the consultation process. The Authority’s publicity of the consultation was done in a minimal way that failed to use many commonly used public information methods such as signage on the maunga and widespread media releases.
Furthermore, the Authority issued confusing instructions to people who requested oral submissions then refused to answer simple process related questions to clarify matters. It took nearly a week of intervention by a senior Auckland Council official to get the Authority to answer some of the questions. The submissions were processed extremely quickly, and most people giving oral submissions noted the Authority’s panel asked them no questions, even when quite significant points had been raised.
A total of 1582 submissions were received, of which 93% opposed tree removal, 1% were neutral or out of scope, and 6% supported felling the trees.
Radford and Waru acknowledge the Authority’s attempt to make concessions in its response but say the report lacks sufficient detail to provide much confidence that the non-native trees are in fact safe.
“The public feedback resulted in the Authority removing all references to felling native trees so at least that is now clear,” says Waru. “Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the non-native trees.”
The approved amendments refer to leaving a “selection of representative” mature, healthy and “significant” non-native trees that are growing on modified areas of the four maunga but does not specify how big the “selection” is, what “representative” means or what makes a tree “significant”. The report states not all non-native trees will be removed but then contradicts itself by stating a maximum of 345 on Ōwairaka and 443 on Ōtāhuhu could be removed (i.e. all of the trees).
“It appears the consultation’s main purpose was to flush out all objections so the Authority can give the appearance of ‘addressing’ them while attempting to safeguard itself from future legal action,” says Radford.
To date legal action against the Authority’s tree-felling intentions and associated follow ups has cost ratepayers more than $1 million.
Both community groups remain committed to saving the maunga trees but accept some may have to go.
Radford says: “The devil will be in the detail so we will seek detailed information about exactly which trees they intend to fell, which ones they undertake to save and what timings will be in place.”
In the meantime, both groups remain vigilant and are poised to act immediately to protect their local maunga trees if needs be.
Radford and Waru say the Authority has much work to do to heal its badly broken relationship with local communities and to build trust.
“We acknowledge they appear to have made some potential concessions, but it is clear they haven’t really listened to local communities’ pleas to work constructively and engage meaningfully with them,” says Waru, who is also disappointed at the report’s brushing off the importance of widely held Māori cultural traditions.
Waru says it also failed to take account of the Ōtāhuhu community having Auckland’s lowest tree canopy coverage at under 8% according to a 2018 LIDAR survey. It has further declined since then due to intensification and the Authority’s felling 153 large trees on Mangere Mountain in 2019. “Our area has very little tree canopy as it is; we can’t afford to lose any more.”
Radford notes the past three years have been a bruising experience for all, and says she feels sad that the Authority has missed an opportunity to role-model co-governance that builds trust, unity and a warm partnership between the Tāmaki Collective and other Aucklanders.
“I hope the incoming Authority members for this term will realise how powerful it will be to engender the public’s trust by genuinely engaging with local communities, working openly and constructively with them and not resorting to mislabelling as ‘racist’ anyone who disagrees with their processes.
“We would value a partnership based on mutual respect that harnesses our shared passion and enthusiasm for maunga wellbeing. A good first step would be to start conversations rather than carefully contrived consultations so that we all start talking with – rather than past – each other.”
NOTE TO EDITORS
The consultation report deliberately and untruthfully refers to Honour the Maunga as a group that is “campaigning against maunga restoration”. HTM has always supported succession to fully native vegetation on the maunga but is concerned about the proposed process.
The report also inaccurately claims an Honour the Maunga flier about the consultation had misleading statements about native tree removal. Please be aware that a TMA supporter complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the flier’s native tree reference, but the complaint was not upheld. The fact the TMA itself recommended striking out the native tree felling references gives further strength to the accuracy of our flier’s claim based on what was stated in the consultation document that the flier referred to.
In its report, the Authority makes several pointed references to a large number of submissions sent via email@example.com Such references are meaningless because there was nothing to stop people using that site to send submissions in support of felling the trees but of course very few members of the public prefer that action. Likewise, with the flier; it was distributed to letterboxes thus made available to members of the public who did/did not support saving the trees. But, yet again, nearly all of those who felt strongly enough to make a submission were people who are against felling healthy mature trees.
The Authority’s report is a big file so we have had to split it into two. See part 1 here and part 2 here.
As can be seen in the screen shots below, the amendments pertaining to Ōtāhuhu Mt Richmond and Ōwairaka Mt Albert give the appearance of concession but don’t actually guarantee any of the trees will be safe from felling. Likewise with the other maunga in this consultation – Puketāpapa Mt Roskill and Te Tatua a Riukiuta Big King.