Urban trees have become an increasingly heated topic over the last few years, and understandably so given how many have been lost after the previous government removed blanket protections from the RMA.

This is manifesting itself currently in Avondale in a battle between a much needed housing development and the fate of a single but significant tree.

An Auckland resident has chained himself to a crane to stop it felling a 160-year-old protected tree in the path of a major housing development.

Ockham and Marutūāhu Collective are behind the 117-unit Aroha project, and say the tree at the corner of Ash St and Great North Rd needs to go, otherwise the development will not go ahead.

But the dozens of protesters have assembled say it is one of the few remaining trees of its size and stature in urban parts of the city, and are calling on the developers to incorporate it into their design.

I’ll say upfront that I think the full picture of biodiversity, climate – and the issues with our planning processes – are much wider than can be resolved by preventing the removal of this one tree. The benefits of Ockham’s plan here: repairing our urban fabric, preventing sprawl, and reducing traffic, are too important to ignore.

This is not to say we want to see trees needlessly cut down. Trees – and particularly urban trees – provide huge value to the city and locals.

We’ve also argued before in favour of saving trees such as the Pohutukawa six at St Lukes. But we need to balance the value of the project against the value of the tree/s. In the case of the Pohutukawa six, the project was low value, to unnecessarily widen a road for imaginary traffic volumes and with little in the way of mitigation. That is quite a different situation to what we see here where the trade-off is a lot of new homes and many more new native trees being planted.

The issues are actually well summed up by the developer, Mark Todd, in this piece he wrote for Newsroom. It is of course easy to claim he’s biased. Afterall, he is the developer here. But we think he’s right. He deserves to be listened to. Frankly, he’s probably done more to show good and attractive urban development is possible in the last decade than probably anyone else.

The gorgeous Modal in Mt Albert is one of Mark’s most recent projects, Image Credit: Ockham

The whole thing is well worth a read and it was hard to not just copy the entire thing.

He starts by outlining what’s happening out on the urban fringes where “the equivalent of 10 rugby fields each day are devoured as Auckland sprawls ever outwards” and that the bulldozers and diggers doing this “carve through anything in their path“.

We tell ourselves this is inevitable – that this is the price of progress. We endure ever-worsening congestion – more lanes, more cars – and arrive late and frazzled, ‘Bloody Auckland traffic’ our stock greeting shared with rolled eyes and a rueful smile.

…..

We fudge or rationalise or simply ignore the cost of our urban sprawl – the billions of dollars for our roads and motorways, the billions of hours wasted at the wheel, the billions of tonnes of carbon emitted. And then there are the 50,000 hectares of nature that have been sliced and diced into subdivisions. Like the apocryphal frog in the pot, we keep adjusting to the new normal, not realising what we’ve lost until it’s gone forever.

It is a development model replicated in car-centric countries all over the world, one driven by a frontier mentality and underpinned by the folly that our horizons are unlimited, and we can just grow ourselves out of trouble. It’s never been less true than now.

He then gets on to the project itself.

There are four scheduled trees on the site at 1817 Great North Road and our careful design ensures the preservation of three of these. But the position of the fourth – the macrocarpa – in the north corner makes a large section of the site unusable for housing. Keeping this declining tree means we could not fulfil the Auckland Plan’s mandate and make best use of this high-amenity urban site.

The best way forward is to remove the macrocarpa. A resource consent was granted last year (with a number of conditions which we met and then some e.g., planting 21 mature native trees across the site) – non-notifiable because of the project’s alignment with the climate and housing objectives enshrined in the Auckland Plan 2050. All consents are on the public record: you will find a copy of Auckland Council’s approval on the Tree Council website.

When the protesters learnt we had permission to cut down the tree, they leapt into action. Unfortunately for us, the tree quickly became one of Auckland’s most prominent billboards, and activists have now set up camp up the tree as well as under it. The protesters say they’re aggrieved that the city’s rules allow for a scheduled tree to be removed without notification (albeit under extenuating circumstances, and only if the removal strongly supports the city’s broader environmental goals). It’s a very high bar. We cleared it.

In the meantime, various Facebook experts and self-anointed architects had a look at our plans and wondered why we couldn’t just move this, there, and that back over there; why we couldn’t work with the tree and incorporate it in our design. It’s a nice idea which we’d implement if we thought it was the right result for the site. It just isn’t.

He also relates the development to the wider issue of sprawl and our climate emergency.

When you simultaneously find yourself in a climate emergency and a housing affordability crisis that blights the future of half our country’s people, something has to give. Predictably, the nation’s powerful subdividing lobby – the land-bankers, the urban sprawlers, the suburban spreaders, the Wild Westers and greenfields gobblers – have the answer. Free Up More Land is their siren call, as if doubling down on this environmentally catastrophic path and building unaffordable Legoland houses and unending motorways is the answer.

Ockham’s vision for Auckland has always been very different. As a brownfields developer, we work within the city’s existing limits. All our recent developments – like Hypatia in Grafton, Station R and Daisy in Mt Eden, Modal and Tuatahi in Mt Albert, Set in Avondale – are on major bus routes, a quick whizz from cycleways, a short walk to a train station. The chicken-and-egg conundrum facing Auckland’s public transport – that people won’t use it until it becomes a more regular service, but it can’t become more regular until more people use it – is not terrifically difficult to solve. You build close to major public transport arteries which also happens to be where many people want to live. This is why we have championed environmentally friendly projects like Daisy in Mt Eden (New Zealand’s only 10-star energy-rated residential development) and carless projects, such as Modal in Mt Albert. Two more carless developments in Grey Lynn and Morningside are underway.

If we want to stop the real environmental tragedy from occurring we need to stop sprawling out into the countryside like we’re currently doing.

We’ve shown maps of the development areas before. This map gives a clearer picture of where canopy loss is happening:

But to prevent the sprawl, we need to both enable and build a lot more homes in the existing urban area. While most developers are building low rise and car-focused standalone houses or townhouses, Todd has been leaving space for trees, by building higher on a smaller footprint.

In this project, there will be many more trees planted than are being removed. It is also positive to see that local groups, such as the business association, have come out in support. On balance, the project has very good social and environment outcomes, and clearly the council thought so too by giving him consent to do it.

There are enormous environmental issues to be resolved in Auckland, and there’s sometimes a place for protests to get things on track: Getting the cars off the berms so the soil life and trees can thrive. Planting our barren streets so they become boulevards of trees. Allowing perimeter block housing so backyards can be merged into parks instead of fall prey to low density infill. Removing paved areas to allow the stream network to function and not flood. Reducing traffic by stopping sprawl and reallocating infrastructure to sustainable modes of travel. And much, much more.

In the context of all that needs to change, preventing a great development by focusing on a single macrocarpa tree could be seen as performative environmentalism. What I think all of this highlights is that we need to have a much wider discussion about many of these issues. We’ll continue to blog about them. We’ll keep joining up the dots between housing and trees so that their relationships with soil, asphalt, streams, car dependence and farmland is better understood.

What about Council? Will they support their own plan by demonstrating and explaining to the public that there are many environmental benefits from quality intensification, while holding firm on the rules so that developers doing it right, and doing it well, aren’t punished?

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93 comments

  1. I am pleased to see that you have written about this issue.
    Those many new distant suburbs with tightly packed 2 story, 4 bedroom and double garage houses to me are unattractive. Especially when then there are streets and streets of them.
    I have lived/visited several of them. Often the garage is converted for an extra boarder. There are cars parked everywhere and neighbours argue about parking.
    The garden is small or mostly covered in black plastic, rocks, artificial turf or concrete.
    The time and the cost of commuting is high and children miss out on the extra activities a city offers.
    People living close to work or school have it over those who are spending too many hours in their cars.

    1. 100% agree I find those places awful. I just can’t understand how such a high percentage of the population find them desirable and pay millions to live there, but each to their own I guess.
      Every time I see one of those articles in the Herald about some family that has moved to Hawkes Bay or Tauranga and are loving their new life and “don’t miss the Auckland traffic” I imagine that they have come from one of those sprawl suburbs.

      1. It’s true. Modern subdivisions are awful. So are apartment blocks like that modal thing.
        Older subdivisions not so much.

      2. > can’t understand how such a high percentage of the population find them desirable and pay millions to live there

        Lack of choice. In part due to situations like this, which as noted in another comment below: “the message to developers will be that brownfields sites are too risky.”

        1. It’s not desire driven, its blanket bans over inner City suburbs aka the Villabelt that means that anything nearly affordable with multiple bedrooms are built in sprawl.

        1. go to school/work* but you get the idea. The only three bedroom options on the Ockham site at the moment are $4.6m apartments.

        2. Buy a two-bedroom one and a one-bedroom one, there you go, three bedrooms for about a million bucks and you get a free extra kitchen.

    2. Yeah I get the plan behind those subdivisions either.

      I see this work in two ways: either put those subdivisions where they make sense, i.e. in central suburbs, where not having a car isn’t such a crippling handicap. Or if you want an outlying development like that you have to go all in and build an entire town, not just a residential subdivision. So people can do most of their errands within your new town, presumably without a car if they’d like to.

      Otherwise you’ll end up like our current crop of townhouses, with people pulling their hair out wondering where to put all those damn cars. They may try with less cars, but they’ll quickly figure out that you have to drive, or else. You just have to read the previous GA post for that “or else” part.

  2. Gawd, it’s not even a native, get a grip people, a little perspective please.

    Cut it down, mill it up and use it in some of the buildings, the wood from macrocarpa can be some of the nicest you’ll lay eyes on, it’s stunning.

    1. Even if it was native does that make a difference? This is a city after all, there is plenty of room for native trees in the 99% of NZ that is not a city.
      To me the real problem is that the council are not planting any new trees (I thought Goff said he would but I can’t see any near us). There are so many roads with empty berms. People obviously desire “leafy suburbs”, why wouldn’t a council try and make more of them?

      1. The only trees I personally know of planted as part of the million trees programme were planted hastily, too close together and were inappropriate specimens for the location. But I’m sure there were some good plantings.

        People do prefer “leafy suburbs” and you’re spot on about the berms. Auckland Transport have made it harder to plant on your own berm than to park there, and in general, they don’t seem to want to plant trees simply because they want to be able to treat the berms as part of their easy-to-swipe road width.

        Council should have laid down some numerical targets for planting streets trees, and some consequences for not meeting them.

        The Auckland Urban Ngahere Strategy only puts the minimum each local board area must achieve as 15% canopy coverage. That’s tiny, and unambitious. We should be aiming for a minimum of 40% in each board at least. Singapore achieved 47% canopy coverage in 2007 and they keep planting more.

      2. We’ve gone backwards as far as street trees go since the formation of the Supercity. 20+ years ago plane trees were returned to Ponsonby and Jervois Roads (they were originally ripped out along with the tram lines in the fifties). Does anybody think that would be a possible outcome now?

        1. It depends on what you count.
          Vegetarian covers 56% of Singapore. 27% is managed and 29% is spontaneous.
          There is proper jungle, full of Cobras, pythons, monkeys, crocodiles and other animals.
          It is not called the Garden City without reason.
          Actual trees of at least 5m is 23%.

        2. Ahh right. So we’re talking about what might be considered the region of Singapore.
          In that case I wonder how the region of Auckland stacks up.

        3. Well, we’re certainly a long way behind on “cobras, pythons, monkeys, crocodiles and other animals”!

      3. I don’t think more street trees are the answer. A lot of current street trees in Auckland are hideous. Large species (London Plane, Liquidamber, Pohutukawa) are planted & then disfigured to look like Pac Man or worse due to powerlines as they try to reach their full potential.
        We ratepayers are forking out millions of dollars to Tree Scape (owned by Vector) to prune these trees on a ‘regular’ basis when the species the Council has selected are wrong for the location.
        We should be keeping our berms grassy (which also has a positive impct on the environment) and investing the money for trees into our reserves, parks & forests.
        Spending the money wisely, putting trees in the right location so they actually get to grow to their full potential & people can spend time enjoying them.

        1. Street trees are needed for walkability and to try to keep cool the enormous expanse of asphalt that our driving-based transport system has plastered the city with. This is high on the lists of climate responses cities need to be doing. The urban heat effect is strong in Auckland, and inequitable. Leafy suburbs are much easier and nicer to walk in than poorer suburbs without good street trees. And walkability is critical to people being willing to shift modes so it’s central to reducing transport emissions.

          The problem you’ve identified about power lines is a long-standing issue that is a whole kettle of fish in itself. That it hasn’t been solved is a result of governance problems and lack of leadership, yet again.

          The solution isn’t to avoid street trees but to resolve those problems, and invest properly in infrastructure. And this is why wasting so many billions of dollars on sprawl infrastructure is a triple whammy – it pushes our driving up, it creates yet more infrastructure we’ll have to keep maintaining, and it steals money from tasks we should be doing, like undergrounding our power.

        2. So it’s the mowing contractor who gets rich rather than the tree guy? Why don’t you just get rid of anything growing? It’s just a PITA right?

        3. I agree with Heidi. Auckland and NZ generally should have undergrounded it’s electrical and telecommunications facilities years ago. If Labour or Nats etc want to do something to benefit all this should be it. Soo many benefits.

          I left NZ in ’06 to live in the USA and then Europe. Have not had one power cut since the day I flew out of AKL Int.

      4. Almost half of the trees planted in the so-called ‘million tree initiative’ were planted by Watercare in the Hunua Ranges in an effort to prevent a repeat of the damage to their dams from the 2017 Tasman Tempest.

  3. Mark Todd’s piece in Newsroom is excellent and worth reading in its entirety. I think the logic of the development resulting in a net gain of trees is hard to argue against.

    1. The suburb Avondale is part of the Whau ward which is one of 2 Auckland areas with the lowest percentage of tree cover.
      The protesters are not against housing. This development can still go ahead in an adapted version.
      This is a Notable (meaning protected) tree and had to go through a nomination process. If this tree will get cut down it will set a precedent and puts the remaining 2900 tree nominations between Warkworth and Awhitu at risk.
      Council did not follow process. The Whau local board clearly indicated that the resource consent application should go through a publicly notified process. They were ignored. The decision to take this tree down was made long before the resource consent was granted because Ockham had been selling apartments of the plans well before. The councils and developers premeditated outcome of cutting the tree was only officialised when the resource consent was granted recently.
      And of more concern is what appears to be a conflict of interest; the deputy chair of Panuku, Paul Majurey, is also in business with Mark Todd from Ockham in a company called MO5 Properties limited. Paul Majorey is also chair of the Marutūāhu Collective.

      1. Scheduled trees are simply one of many factors considered in granting a consent. In this case, the removal of the tree was seen as mitigated by the other factors, including the planting of 21 native trees and the provision of many apartments in a quality development, preventing sprawl and its concomitant traffic.

        This is how the resource consent process works. This allows flexibility so that the city can evolve. Without the ability to consider all factors in a decision, development would be hindered by the decisions made in the past, by people with values that may no longer match the current values or meet the current challenges.

        The resource consent process is not meant to be hit and miss. Council are limited in what factors they are allowed to consider, and only on certain grounds are they allowed to decline an application. An experienced developer can anticipate the likelihood of success in a resource consent application, and to proceed with marketing the apartments. Please note the buyers only make a down payment.

        Making money in development is hard; many developments don’t manage to sell enough apartments for the development to proceed. The money is generally returned if the development doesn’t go ahead.

        Can you put into words what your problem with this process is? I think you need to do that.

        The dangerous precedent being set is not the cutting down of a scheduled tree using the standard resource consent process. It is that in having followed this process correctly, that the developer might be held up and put to extra cost, and perhaps may not even be able to proceed.

        This tree is not important enough to the community to create this problem for the developer. And it is unfair on a developer whose proposal is generous in its mitigation, that improves Auckland’s urban form and exceeds the quality offered by most developers.

        What seems to be happening here is that the protesters can’t critically tell the difference between true ecological concerns and tree-hugging. And that they don’t understand the process they are trying to criticise. This isn’t a criticism – it’s simply an observation. It’s now up to Council to decide whether they cripple the development sector or provide the necessary education to these protesters.

        Any more delay will signal an untenable development environment for developers wishing to develop brownfields sites. Uncertainty makes development too risky, when added to the other financial risks involved. The result? Sprawl, and a failure of Auckland to become a green, low-carbon city.

        I understand the simplistic wish to retain trees. But it’s important to come up to speed both with how the resource consent process works, and with the bigger loss to the city that will ensue if the outcome of the resource consent process is overturned.

        1. I’m not sure that sneering condescension towards anyone holding an opposite view is going to do much to change hearts and minds.

        2. I think it is already a leap to assume that the protesters actually care about that tree, instead of trying to prevent apartments getting built with whatever argument possible.

  4. For any actual conservationist its a no brainer, the cost of sprawl along with replanting more trees outweighs saving 1 tree, however old it is.

    I saw someone write ‘tell them you’ll keep the tree but double the height of the building and they’d soon jump down from the crane and tree’

  5. If Council allows this situation to go on further, the message to developers will be that brownfields sites are too risky.

    Auckland’s development patterns need to move away from the greenfields “scalp and add roads” approach. The mayor will need to lead on this. I’m not sure if the Auckland Plan 2050 is worth the money put into preparing it if Council just let these protesters do the bidding of the ‘powerful subdividing lobby’.

  6. There was a macrocarpa tree we used to climb at least 30 meters sort of an initiation test for cool kids. I often wonder why our settler society planted them. They were planted all over our country lots in Canterbury.
    I believe they make good soft wood timber which won’t rot if used as fence posts. Also they were used to form shelter belts with the added advantage of making great firewood when they became overgrown. Will never forget the feeling of achievement first time I scaled that tree. Housing has being built around it now but I hope it can survive. In 1975 there was a big windstorm in Christchurch many tree were blown down. Realistically an older tree may not be able to resist winds of that velocity. I expect it will have to be removed but I am hoping I won’t be around to witness it.

  7. I read a while back on wikipedia there are only two small relic areas of these Monterey Cypresses left in California. It is interesting how well they grow in New Zealand along with the Monterey Pine (P. Radiata). Maybe we should check out what else grows in Monterey, My guess is it would do well here.

    1. Cabbage trees would do well. Already a weed in parts of California.
      Monterey pines for Cabbage trees. I think we lost out on that deal.

      1. Except when you have to mow or use a weed trimmer. Cabbage trees pop up wild at my place. I have to collect up all the fibre and dump it in the rubbish. It doesn’t break down or compost, it just tangles. I have even started using a ladder to get down all the brown bits at once to reduce the clean up job.

        1. You need a forest garden, miffy. Everything breaks down in there eventually, including cabbage tree.

        2. I kind of do. I leave the bit by the street to do its own thing like a wilderness. It is full of the sort of rubbish garden centres used to sell but are not allowed to any more. Ladder fern, asparagus fern, agapanthus, a bunch of exotic trees, one pohutukawa and a heap of endemic cabbage trees. I think it annoys all of the neighbours but that is their problem. We used to have the 3rd worst garden in the street but unfortunately the other two have subdivided and left so now we are the outlier.

        3. Sounds to me like you should add in whatever your missing couple of layers are (probably a few perennial root vegetables and nitrogen fixers), then offer tours and seedlings… you’ll need to leave the cabbage tree leaves there as habitat. 🙂

        4. We do have the lower layers. Kikuyu climbs up everything. There is several tonnes of mulched willow tree in there as well from the two massive weeping willows we had cut down a few years ago after one dropped a branch and took out our power for 3 days. My plan is let it do what ever it wants and then knock it all over with a digger when we build a rental house out the front. It makes a really good privacy screen and might form the basis of an argument for a 1.8m fence which is now non-complying under the AUP. My argument will be that the visual effects of a high fence are better than looking at my garden.

        5. Forest gardens are for amateurs.
          You need proper forests. Keeps the kikuyu out. Privet’s still a pain in the arse though.

        6. The important thing is to never plant natives. Otherwise some idiot will ‘protect’ them and you will be stuck with the things forever.

  8. I saw a tweet the other day: “in many european cities, new development is seen and used as a means of *improving* quality of life. in the US, new development is not used in this manner, and none of our processes – from conception to procurement to realization – are focused on this.”

    I think Ockham’s plans there will look fantastic and far better than the tree would. It’s the sort of place I’d like to live, or would if the roads weren’t so dangerous. Added to the environmental wins, this really is a no brainer.

    I’m getting really worried about all the ugly townhouses with their big garages facing the road. No place for trees. Horrible to cycle around. Not as bad as sprawl, but not a good solution. But that’s what developers will do if Ockham has such a hard time.

  9. I have noticed that the tree protests only really seem to happen in more well off areas. Recently some lovely trees got the chop in Mangere but the community there has little capacity to protest (given they have more pressing issues of unhealthy, overcrowding, unaffordable rent etc.).
    How do we get equity for tree protection ?

    1. A quick look at Council’s press releases about trees last year shows that they too are determined by wealth of the area. I wonder how much the press releases stir people up?

  10. The tree was scheduled before the council sold the land to developers.
    The tree is in relatively good health for its age and could easily live hundreds more years, given appropriate maintenance
    “Currently the Avondale area has been assessed as low canopy cover (10 per cent to 15 per cent) with very few large trees, thus increasing the valuable role of the macrocarpa in the setting.”
    “The Tree Council is disgusted at the way this public heritage asset on public land has been handled by Auckland Council. Clearly the protection offered by scheduling our most important trees in the Unitary Plan is meaningless.”

      1. Yes and every single one of them probably believes some old tree in another area is more important than other people having a home to live in.

  11. The case for keeping the tree that is actually being used is not an environmentalist argument: obviously this development is climate- and tree- positive. The argument against felling it is really a ‘heritage’ & ‘character’ argument. But no one has actually advanced a good argument for how it protects these. The only heritage case being made in the protestor’s press release is ‘someone must have planted it for a reason’, and the (exotic, common) tree itself is plainly devoid of character.

    1. this macrocarpa was one of several as part of the first homestead in the area. The homestead had to go when Great North road was built. The argument as to why to keep the tree was made when it was nominated and as a result scheduled.

    1. The suburb Avondale is part of the Whau ward which is one of 2 Auckland areas with the lowest percentage of tree cover.
      The protesters are not against housing. This development can still go ahead in an adapted version.
      This is a Notable (meaning protected) tree and had to go through a nomination process. If this tree will get cut down it will set a precedent and puts the remaining 2900 tree nominations between Warkworth and Awhitu at risk.
      Council did not follow process. The Whau local board clearly indicated that the resource consent application should go through a publicly notified process. They were ignored. The decision to take this tree down was made long before the resource consent was granted because Ockham had been selling apartments of the plans well before. The councils and developpers premeditated outcome of cutting the tree was only officialised when the resource consent was granted recently.
      And of more concern is what appears to be a conflict of interest; the deputy chair of Panuku, Paul Majurey, is also in business with Mark Todd from Ockham in a company called MO5 Properties limited. Paul Majorey is also chair
      of the Marutūāhu Collective.

    2. “The suburb Avondale is part of the Whau ward which is one of 2 Auckland areas with the lowest percentage of tree cover.”

      Then you must be thrilled that the new land use will increase tree cover, including large trees.

  12. If council stop land owners from removing trees, the unintended consequence is land owners will stop planting new trees.

    So we will see tree-less new development. Which is a worse outcome.

    1. Good point indeed. But then council could put in regulations making it mandatory to have a certain number of trees per development.

    2. Really? – your evidence for that statement?

      The main effect of removing tree protection appears to have been loss of tree cover.

  13. With the current attitude on development, all of the new trees planted in the apartment building will be removed for some construction project in a few decades.

    1. If they are, it’ll still be nothing like the ongoing ecological destruction caused by the sprawl that will happen if it can’t go ahead.

      This is exactly why Council has to go hard on getting Auckland Transport to plant trees in the streets, and get over all their resistance to it.

      And why they should have been on top of the issue a long time ago.

    2. the trees they are planting are within the development, so unless they knock their own development down then Im not really sure what you are talking about..

      1. Auckland Council is cutting down trees. The redevelopment of Hurstmere Road, Takapuna saw at least 6 mature palms cut down last year. It didn’t seem any particularly big deal because Council has committed to significant replanting as the project progresses.

        Good luck to this developer for what seems like a very environmentally friendly development. And if the matter progresses to Court then I hope they seek costs because a project that amongst other things replaces one tree with 15 makes sense in so many ways.

        1. I am not joking. A development that is close to the city; avoids endless sprawl; has a smaller square metreage per person; and is close to public transport has to be good for the environment.
          Or am I missing something?

          yep, the additional 14 trees

        2. There’s nothing environmentally friendly about building a big box of concrete metals and plastic.

        3. @tis I. People have to live somewhere. This is significantly more environmentally friendly than most other houses getting built currently. It’s all a relative measurement.

        4. It’s not more environmentally friendly jack.
          It’s less environmentally damaging.
          There’s a big difference.

        5. OK Tis I, I didn’t pass English after the 5th form so happy to go with less environmentally damaging.

          I do note that our first styles of housing where we either relied on long drops; bucketing waste into the street; or having it collected by horse and cart may not have been optimal solutions.

        6. Maybe you’re comparing 1 apartment building with 1 house. Of course the house will be less taxing on the environment.

          It is however 117 units, so for a honest comparison you compare it with a subdivision with 117 houses. That would probably cover an area of 30,000m² or so, and the streets alone would already involve plenty of concrete.

          So given 30,000m² of land, you could use all of it for houses, or put a development like this on 5,000 or so and leave the remaining 25,000 as open space, or forest, or your other favourite environmentally friendly land use.

        7. That’s what less environmentally damaging means Roland.
          There’s nothing environmentally friendly about either of those options.

        8. This semantics argument is relatively pointless. But I disagree with your point. If you warm some thing from -30 to -15, it is correct to say “it’s warmer” and “it’s less cold” both are correct statements. Same applies to it’s “more environmentally friendly”. Eg, say doing something really bad like tipping oil into the river then instead, tipping half that amount into the river would be more environmentally friendly than before. Still bad, sure. But better than the alternative that it was being compared against. And then add in the fact that people have to live somewhere, you have to build housing, it should probably be the most environmentally friendly you can / least environmentally damaging.

  14. The suburb Avondale is part of the Whau ward which is one of 2 Auckland areas with the lowest percentage of tree cover.
    The protesters are not against housing. This development can still go ahead in an adapted version.
    This is a Notable (meaning protected) tree and had to go through a nomination process. If this tree will get cut down it will set a precedent and puts the remaining 2900 tree nominations between Warkworth and Awhitu at risk.
    Council did not follow process. The Whau local board clearly indicated that the resource consent application should go through a publicly notified process. They were ignored. The decision to take this tree down was made long before the resource consent was granted because Ockham had been selling apartments of the plans well before. The councils and developpers premeditated outcome of cutting the tree was only officialised when the resource consent was granted recently.
    And of more concern is what appears to be a conflict of interest; the deputy chair of Panuku, Paul Majurey, is also in business with Mark Todd from Ockham in a company called MO5 Properties limited. Paul Majorey is also part of the Marutūāhu Collective.

  15. If I was the developer, the first thing I’d do after getting consent is to go out there with a drill and some poison. It’s not endangering anyone, which is why they can’t cut it down right now. And it totally removes any reason to sit in it. It’d be a dying tree anyway.

    1. Jack, Your attitude is abhorent to me. That’s an appalling thing to do and an appalling attitude to have. I would rather have the tree than have you.

  16. I find myself very much at odds with the tone of this post which seems to accept the developer’s perspective at face value. Mark Todd has done some great stuff, but his idea that the choice is his way or sprawl is pure sophistry. This property could have been designed to save the tree, it wasn’t, and there was no way for people concerned to challenge his actions as it was a non-notified consent. As we can have the tree and have the housing development if the developer accepts slightly less profit then I would see the people protesting as the ones with the broad perspective. I find it pretty sad the number of people who seem to believe that the best way to get housing is to let developers do largely what they want, and anyone who objects is someone missing the point.

    In reality, our housing crisis is not caused by our planning system, and dismantling democracy will simply help make developers richer and shift costs to the future and the community.

    1. Yes the property could have been redesigned to save the tree… with fewer apartments and an awkward layout with a ten metre wide hole in the floorpan where the north wall needs to be…. which means it would have made a loss, and wouldn’t have gone ahead…. so in reality no, it couldn’t have been redesigned to save the tree.

      You’re flippant comment suggests no understanding of how housing development works. There isn’t mountains of profit in a development like this, and there is a lot of risk. Almost all of the apartment sales cover the cost of construction, land, marketing and delivery. The profit comes on the last couple of apartments sold. If you take out one row of apartments on a six storey building to have a tree grow there instead that’s six apartments gone and you’ve gone from a viable development to a loss maker.

      Your so called ‘slightly less profit’ actually means ‘don’t build it because you don’t make any profit’. And the site gets flogged to someone who slaps up a couple of quick townhouses surrounded by concrete parking and moves on.

      They are replacing that one tree with 21 mature native trees and 117 new homes costing less than $500k each. Would your grandchildren really thank you for stopping that?

      1. I am perpetually amazed by how many people think there are massive margins in building new homes: there aren’t. Margins are quite tight, which is why so few sites actually get developed and every single restriction from the council removes tens of thousands of sites from the pool of developable sites.

      2. Are you really confident the development would be at threat? Do you know a lot about developments like this?

        I think you’d need to see the budget and cashflow forecasts to know what their profit margins were and how dependent the development was on the tree going. I’m not sure there are many developers doing what Ockham does so the development potential for the site may not have been fully priced into what they paid or would pay for the land. The presence of the tree itself might have meant they got the land at a discount. And if they’ve had the land for awhile all the big property price gains over the last year would equal higher selling prices for apartments not already sold and would be going straight to their bottom line.

        And if they’ve otherwise got approval for a multi-storey development, I find it hard to believe some sort of similar development would not go ahead regardless of what happens to the tree. If Ockham are locked into the land they would want to maximise their gains against their investment so far, and if they aren’t the loss of development potential would get built into the new sale price for the land for them or for someone else to develop it. I also think I saw somewhere that if they moved (removed?) a swimming pool they could keep the building size as is.

        1. My comments come from a context of having worked for a property development company until it went bankrupt. Every developer out there is always one bad job away from folding.

          The margins are thin, you may not know but Ockham are only one of two outfits working in this space in Auckland.

          A few do tower and cheap terraces, almost all only deliver greenfields single family.

          Cheaply built terraces selling for $1.5m is the alternative for this site. Two storey rows fronting a shared driveway, like the ones on the other side of Avondale opposite Rosebank Rd.

          Oh and by the way “ maximise their gains against their investment so far” is the sunk cost falsify, a good way to go broke very quickly. They will want to maximize gains on their current position. Quite often that means dropping a development plan before you’ve started anything and selling out. Look at the one over in Herne Bay. It was going to be 60 something apartments till the local Nimbys got stuck in. Now it’s going to be a supermarket box.

        2. It seems like its otherwise got approval for a mid-rise development, and I think a mid-rise development around the tree would still happen if it was more profitable than a low-rise one. My guess is that would be the case but let me know if that is unlikely.

        3. The height limit is six storeys in that zone, the same limit as the other side of Avondale where they just built two storey terraces.

          It’s hard to make midrise profitable. 4-6 storeys is actually about the worst, as it requires all the expensive design of tall buildings (sprinkler systems, fire cells, multiple redundant escape routes, elevators, seismic joints in the structure etc), but not really enough floors to spread the cost of these things across enough dwellings.

        4. What you are saying about building costs makes sense. But higher buildings will also have more apartments to spread the land costs over, so the best choice will depend on the balance of land and building costs.

          If the balance usually tips in favour of two storey buildings over 6 storey ones then a lot of people are going to be disappointed with the results of the 6 storey upzoning under the NPS-UD.

    2. I think you need to look more closely at who is “dismantling democracy” here.

      Auckland’s consultation process has its fair share of flaws, and then some, but it’s sought more views and had more checks and balances than this group of protesters has. There are ways to improve the planning process that don’t involve trespass and nuisance. I can reel off a long list of local environmentalists who are highly annoyed at this situation and the protesters’ simplistic interpretation of environmental concerns. How Council might respond is worrying. There’s an enormous risk here they’ll set a precedent like AT’s response to the cycleway protests set – and put our city’s development back by 5 or 10 or more years.

      Anyone concerned about development’s effect on local ecology needs to first protest against the damaging development that is happening because Council is not following its own plans – before protesting against well balanced developments that do follow the city’s plans.

      There are plenty of examples of “dismantling democracy” by the Council assessing officers themselves. Developments that make our city worse are consented frequently, which are not in keeping with the objectives of the zone descriptions, and could have easily been turned down because they almost completely pave the land and add unnecessary vehicle crossings.

      Most of West Auckland’s development is of a poor form that is going to create an enormous flooding problem. The Aroha development is of the form we need, followed the correct processes, met the desired objectives, and balanced well all the various needs and challenges. So to protest against it on the basis of the loss of one tree that is more appropriate for a farm, park or golf course – not a walkable neighbourhood on a rapid transit line – is misguided, unbalanced, and very unhelpful.

      Some commenters seem to be forgetting that to create the city we want, it takes developers to do much of the work. Developers do have rights, and they should be being upheld in this case.

  17. The challenge is that we are all likely at a point on the journey of knowing a little more about urban planning than the protesters in Avondale. Mana Ngahere are people who can see trees getting cut down, and no bigger picture as to why, alongside messaging that we are in a climate emergency.

    They’re making a noise about tree protection legislation having the teeth of a gummy bear and they’re really on to something. It’s not really Occam that the fight is against, it’s putting a line in the sand that is quite clearly making this the conversation that it is – the one that we are having now.

    These people are neighbours who can see that there is a problem in Avondale, and are doing the only thing they can think of to make someone do anything about it. The pleas to Auckland Council made 20 years ago, on the right channels, have been ignored and there is no master or area plan for Avondale (yes the town centre, and I can assure you that one is missing some tricks, but not for Avondale, the place where 4 homes are getting turned into 104, pepper potted all over the suburb, and ZERO transport or green infrastructure is being connected to them). The intensification increase is several times that of the intensification increase in managed areas like Mangere or Mt Roskill …and the people who are running the town center planning for example, hadn’t even done that simple calculation as late as October 2020. No one is doing it for the rest of the area at all.

    So while we might be at a level of knowledge accumulation that allow us to say:

    “Getting the cars off the berms so the soil life and trees can thrive. Planting our barren streets so they become boulevards of trees. Allowing perimeter block housing so backyards can be merged into parks instead of fall prey to low density infill. Removing paved areas to allow the stream network to function and not flood. Reducing traffic by stopping sprawl and reallocating infrastructure to sustainable modes of travel. And much, much more.”

    these people are just at the start of that journey. Rather than demonising them as the cause of sprawl, perhaps we could facilitate directing that energy and passion into the channels listed above.

    That aside there really is a problem in Avondale, Mana Ngahere are just a symptom of it, and Occam is wearing it. But blaming the protesters is a red herring, while Crown and Council are playing shenanigans.

    I wrote a notice of motion in a similar vein, it’s not great, but it’s a start, you can read that here:
    https://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2020/11/WH_20201125_MIN_9834.htm

    Also Matt: “Allowing perimeter block housing so backyards can be merged into parks instead of fall prey to low density infill.: FTW!!!! It was my favourite take home idea from my trip to Amsterdam in 2018 and I took lots of photos. I wasn’t able to impress anyone with the idea in my last place of work, but I’m giving it a nudge in my new job.

    1. Thanks for all your work on the subject, Jessica.

      “these people are just at the start of that journey. Rather than demonising them as the cause of sprawl…” Matt’s accepted there’s “a place for protests to get things on track” and has suggested areas where it makes sense. The protesters have chosen the wrong aspect of Auckland’s poor development patterns to protest; criticising this decision is not demonising them.

      You are dead right to call for Council to masterplan Avondale and indeed every area. Despite the many superb ecological thinkers within Council, the plans fail to put the regeneration of our ecological base at the centre.

      An inadequate response to the protest on Council’s part can be seen as a cause of sprawl. Especially when coupled with their development strategy allowing the city to grow in land area by 25% – which determines transport planning and investment, and thus makes sprawl easy for developers – and with their active work to remove from the AUP the few intensification measures allowed in low density, central zones.

      Sprawl has to stop, now, regardless of how long it takes Council to properly understand regenerative compact city planning. The ultimate – and painful – consequence of this, is that intensification has to happen, now, even without the master planning.

      One way to cope with this awful thought is that although bad intensification makes the environment worse for people in suburbs like Avondale, sprawl induces so much traffic that its effect on the people in Avondale is even worse. We can repair bad intensification – though it’s costly. We can’t repair sprawl.

      So Council needs to get its act together quickly. Wonderful thinkers like yourself need to be put to higher level work – sharing the vision and getting us on track for it. A mature city pre-empts conflict through quality engagement. It responds to conflict as an opportunity for education and demonstration of quality principles.

      The faster we can stop sprawl, the faster we can reallocate billions of dollars in infrastructure spending – it’ll be a lumpy journey, but with that money made available for regeneration, real opportunities for improvement will arise.

      Let’s keep our sights on the big picture. If you want to spend your time helping environmentalists who are on an early stage of their journey, I admire you for it. Council should provide you with support to do so. But as I explained to you, it’s hard work; there’s only so much of that sort of work that any one person, community group, neighbourhood, local board, should be required to do.

      The conversation and the city both need to mature. Paris, San Francisco, London haven’t made progress by halting everything, and revisiting each part of the process, as soon as people protested. People who choose to join the conversations through public protest can’t expect kid glove treatment.

      Greater Auckland was established to provide commentary and encourage intelligent debate about transport and urban form issues. That’s what we are doing.

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