The roller-coaster ride that has been the fate of the six Pohutukawa at the St Lukes intersection came to a head yesterday at the Auckland Transport board meeting where a decision needed to be made one way or the other on their fate. Given the history, both of the trees themselves and of the process we’ve seen it’s understandable that this had become quite an emotional issue for many people. We’ve written a lot about the saga over the past months including:
Many who supported the trees turned up at the meeting packing out the room. I wasn’t there myself but I’m certain it’s a sight that not many of the board directors had seen before as these meetings are usually devoid of public in attendance. In fact I even believe there were people who had been denied entry as the room was too full. There was also a sense of irony in that the meeting was held in the NZTAs offices where the meeting rooms are named after trees – the board meeting was in the Kauri room.
— Patrick Reynolds (@pv_reynolds) February 20, 2015
Only two people had been allowed speaking rights at the meeting, Shale Chambers – the chair of the Waitemata Local Board and Jolisa Gracewood who has led the campaign to save the trees. Jolisa delivered a wonderful speech which you can read after the break if you want to. Auckland Transport staff maintained the line that they had looked at a number of other options and that this was the only feasible one. Of course this isn’t surprising as if AT had planned on changing their mind they would have done it before it reached this point. After going into a closed session to discuss the matter and they emerged just over an hour later with the fantastic news that they had voted by unanimous decision to keep the trees and send staff back to the drawing board. Poignantly AT Chairman Dr Lester Levy stressed that Public and Active transport users were not served well by the proposed design.
This is a fantastic outcome and well done to all who have helped retain the trees but especially to Jolisa who has put a lot of effort in to this cause.
— Patrick Reynolds (@pv_reynolds) February 20, 2015
I’d also like to say well done to the Auckland Transport Board who have shown they are prepared to listen to the public and show leadership on critical issues. With this sort of attitude it’s perhaps no surprise that we’ve been seeing some great direction coming out of the organisation recently. AT can add the St Lukes decision to their growing list of impressive accomplishments that includes:
- the installation of more bus lanes
- bringing forward the AMETI busway by deferring the Reeves Rd flyover
- investigating light rail in the central isthmus to combat bus congestion in the city
Perhaps more critically while this fight was about saving these trees it was always about much more than them. It was really a question about how we want our city to develop. For decades and particularly through this area we’ve handed over large swathes of land solely for the movement of cars and larger and larger intersections. Fights such as this or the Respect our Community one against an East-West Link ploughing through Mangere represent Aucklanders no longer accepting the sacrificing of our city to the unquestioned movement of cars. That can only be positive for how our city develops in the future.
There are still a few questions that remain about this project including:
- Where has Len Brown been in all of this, his silence has been notable despite many people encouraging him to get involved
- Why did Auckland Transport staff dig in so much and let it get this far – were there too many egos at play
- Just what alternatives have been looked at and when will AT talk more about them
- How much of the desire for this outcome stem from the NZTA who likely have much more say of this area than in other local road projects due to the spread out nature of the interchange.
Once again well done to all those who fought against this plan and click on to see Jolisa’s speech.
Thank you for inviting me to speak.
I appreciate the challenge Board Members have when they enter the Board Room.
As the Institute of Directors’ Four Pillars of Governance Best Practice reminds us, your challenge is to “elicit wisdom on the right issues, at the right time, and in the right form – and that’s not easy.”
My challenge is to represent (in 5 minutes!) the range and diversity of people who want the mature pōhutukawa at 820 Great North Road to stay. Here to support me (and the trees) today are people from The Tree Council, Cycle Action Auckland, Transportblog, The Pōhutukawa Savers, and the Māori Community, among others.
I also represent the voices of the many who have made submissions, the thousands who have signed an online petition, the perspective of leading journalists, and Members of Parliament from both sides of the house.
We are all of us gravely concerned that Auckland Transport is about to make a monumental mistake, destroying a streetscape and living taonga that have been in place for 80 years.
Given the coverage in local & national media – including the New Zealand Herald, Metro magazine, Radio NZ, bFM, RadioLive, ZB network, Māori TV and the Chinese-language TV channel CTV8 – and the cameras and microphones in the room today, it’s fair to say everyone is watching.
Our unanimous concerns are three-fold:
1. What will be lost.
We are gravely troubled by the way Auckland Transport’s officers have minimised the heritage value, design impact, and ecological worth of the trees.
• These are not just any old trees. I’ve supplied a written statement describing how these trees were planted in 1934 by the Council to line Great North Road and complete a public park built by Depression-era workers. They were planted with an eye toward the centenary (of the city and the nation), in the expectation they would be cared for by the community. Pōhutukawa are not just the symbol of the city, but living evidence of Auckland’s vision for its own long-term future.
• Design-wise, these trees anchor one of Auckland’s most impressive avenues of mature pōhutukawa — an “iconic inner-city landscape”, as the Parks Department puts it. This stand of trees softens and humanises a major intersection used by hundreds of thousands of visitors. Removing them would “shear off” the focal point of that avenue, remove half of the green gateway to Western Springs, expose Motat to the motorway, and leave a hole in the skyline as evidence for generations to come of the damage that was done.
• You also have a written statement from the Tree Council that calculates the contribution of trees this size to shade, carbon sequestration, stormwater control, and pollution containment. These effects are of even greater value near a busy intersection and a major highway. Experts advise that any replacement trees won’t approach this level of value in our lifetimes – indeed, they likely never will.
In terms of heritage, place-value and the environment, cutting down these trees is selling off the family silver — for a pittance.
2. What will be gained?
We are deeply worried at how little Auckland stands to receive in return for this sacrifice.
To take Local Board Land, and cut down trees of this magnitude, in a neighbourhood of this distinction – home to parks, a golf course, a museum, the zoo, huge festivals – Auckland Transport had better be confident this is the best decision for the people of Auckland. Because it’s irreversible.
Auckland Transport’s officers continue to insist on the benefits for bikes, buses, and pedestrians.
In fact, the proposed design:
• does not improve things for cyclists
• makes things worse for people who walk
• does not meaningfully improve public transit
• and most painfully of all, as pointed out in Leo Hills’ independent review of the traffic impact of design options – it offers no better vehicular traffic outcome than other options that preserve the trees. In other words, purely on traffic measures alone, leaving aside the value of place and history, cutting down the trees doesn’t gain us anything.
In other words, we would be chopping down these trees for nothing. This design is all pain for no discernable gain. It exhibits little in the way of imagination. It’s not worthy of Auckland Transport, and it’s a terrible trade for these trees.
3. How did we get to this point?
We have serious questions about the process that led us here.
Look, we are all reasonable people here. It’s obvious that nobody outside Auckland Transport’s officers is embracing this plan. It has been fought by the Local Board, adamantly and eloquently opposed by the city’s own Parks department and Community Policy and Planning unit. Politically, local MPs Nikki Kaye and David Shearer have spoken out in chorus against this proposal, in a rare bipartisan consensus.
The public consultation and how it’s been represented by Auckland Transport’s officers continues to cause controversy and concern:
Of the 64 public submissions made regarding the Notice of Requirement, 54 were thrown out on a technicality that could have been easily remedied.
Ngarimu Blair, the Deputy Chair of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei says Auckland Transport did not engage with his iwi over the removal of these trees, lending doubt to the claim that “no concerns were raised by mana whenua”.
Cycle Action Auckland rejects the claims that removing the trees will improve cycling, and does not support the plan.
Motat states that it never backed the removal of these trees. Indeed, their development plans for the next few years throw everything into flux when thinking about this space.
Moreover, there are doubts about the numbers, especially the traffic modeling that has been used to justify chopping down the trees – astonishingly, it takes no account of the impact of the opening of the Waterview Connection. Auckland Transport simply doesn’t know how many people will be using this intersection in 2026, nor in what modes they’ll be using it – but proposes cutting down these trees just in case.
There’s talk of “future-proofing” this stretch of road by making it as wide as possible. But given the value of these trees to Aucklanders, the paltry return on cutting them down for this design, and the uncertainty around the justifications for doing so — surely the only way to “future-proof” this space is by leaving the trees where they are, unless and until there is an iron-clad case for removing them for the benefit of all Aucklanders.
Here is how this looks to people outside this room: trees planted by city visionaries nearly a century ago are to be torn down by faceless officers and an unelected CCO.
This is a terrible situation for ratepayers, the city, for you, for all of us.
Luckily there’s a way out. This is the right issue and the right time to bring your wisdom to bear on a potential tragedy that cannot be remedied in hindsight. We need you to rigorously examine the case your officers are making.
Because we know that Auckland Transport can do better than this. We’ve seen courageous and exciting projects that balance transport needs with brilliant placemaking. In this case, the placemaking has already been done for us, by visionary people who have now gone before.
They say a civilization grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. It stays great when the rest of us look after that legacy. These pōhutukawa are not just obstacles in the road. They are assets and treasures, rākau rangatira, for the people of Auckland. We can’t put them back once they are gone.
We therefore urge you to choose an interim solution, like Option 6; wait until the Waterview Connection is open and the resulting traffic patterns understood; wait until the Western Springs master plan is established and Motat’s future plans become clear — so that the needs of all the people moving through this space, in every mode, can be balanced with the irreplaceable historic fabric of the streetscape. As Auckland Transport’s own remit puts it: you want to be getting people to places they want to go.
We ask you to exercise your wisdom by adopting a resolution that leaves these trees in place.
We’d like to suggest and table the following resolution for your consideration.
That: Auckland Transport recognise the significant community interest in retaining the pōhutukawa trees at 820 Great North Road, decline the NoR Hearings Panel recommendation to remove them, and direct its officers to seek alternatives that meet the transport network’s wider objectives while preserving this historic streetscape and its trees.