Supreme Court denies Tūpuna Maunga authority leave to appeal Ōwairaka Mt Albert tree felling decision

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The community group fighting to save 345 trees on Mount Ōwairaka Mt Albert says the Supreme Court did the right thing by rejecting the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s request to appeal a court ruling over the proposed felling of trees.

The Supreme Court said it denied the Authority leave to appeal because: “We don’t see that the
[judicial] decision affects the integrity or effectiveness of the Tāmaki Collective Settlement or co-governance agreements generally”.

The development follows legal action brought by Auckland couple Averil and Warwick Norman. The Court of Appeal concluded that the Authority had acted unlawfully by failing to comply with its consultation obligations under the Reserves Act. The ruling also found that Auckland Council acted unlawfully by failing to publicly notify consent to tree felling resources under the Resource Management Act. Auckland Council accepted the decision and did not seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Community group Honor the Maunga says the decision vindicated its tree-saving actions – something the group has come under heavy criticism for in some quarters.

“We have always known that the Authority’s repeated assertions that the public consulted the public about its intention to rid Ōwairaka and the other maunga of all exotic trees was untrue, and it is comforting to know that the highest court of the country agrees,” says Honor the Maunga. spokesperson Anna Radford.

In total, the taxpayer-funded co-governance body plans to clear the city’s maunga of around 2,500 non-native trees, so the Supreme Court’s decision has implications for all maunga. Currently, there are unnotified living resource clearances for mass tree fellings on Puketāpapa/Mt Roskill, Ōtāhuhu/Mt Richmond and Te Tātua a Riukiuta/Big King.

“While the court rulings expressly apply to Ōwairaka, it would be extremely cynical for the Authority and Auckland Council to ignore these court findings regarding the massive tree fellings on other maunga,” says Ms. Radford.

Taxpayers had funded the legal defenses of the Authority and Council to the tune of approximately $1 million + GST, so further legal action involving other maunga would incur additional costs for taxpayers.

Ms. Radford notes that the court ruling left the door open for tree felling in the future, provided consultation obligations are met.

“Naturally, we hope this will not happen as environmentally friendly succession to fully native vegetation on the maunga requires it to occur over a long period of time.”

She encourages the Authority to stop fighting local communities and instead work with them.

“We hope that members of the Authority – in particular its six elected representatives from Auckland Council – will take stock and reflect on the kind of relationship the Authority wishes to have with the people of Auckland. We therefore encourage the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to undertake in accordance with the following principles:

  • Putting the natural environment first and considering all decisions from the perspective of what is best for it
  • Genuine good faith commitments
  • Engagement will be through bilateral face-to-face discussions conducted with mutual respect
  • Any tree-cutting engagement should be chaired by an independent third party, given the lack of trust local communities have in the Authority and Auckland Council

Ms Radford acknowledges that the past 2.5 years have been difficult for everyone involved, but says she hopes a positive outcome for all – especially the natural environment – will be achieved in the long term.

© Scoop Media

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