Auckland Council fells Waitākere Tree Services in court

Publish Date : 15 May 2023
Notable copper beech tree on Manukau Road Credit: Google images
AC v WTSL (1)
Copper beech tree removed on Manukau Road site Photo credit: Google images

A notable tree felled without resource consent at 218 Manukau Road saw Waitākere Tree Services Limited (WTSL) recently fined $32,500 in the Auckland District Court.

The arborist company was contracted in December 2020 to carry out vegetation removal on the site in Manukau Road and instructed to remove all trees. Prior to carrying out the works, WTSL checked the Notable Tree Register on the Auckland Council website but failed to identify the tree was protected.

Later that day the developer of the site, Eden Developments, noticed the tree had been removed and notified Auckland Council a notable tree had been removed.

Auckland Council submitted the defendants, WTSL and their employee, failed to carry out adequate checks to ensure the tree they felled was not a Notable Tree and said all defendants had a high degree of culpability.

“They ought to have been aware of the tree’s status,” says Auckland Council’s Manager Compliance and Investigations, Kerri Fergusson.

“They are experienced in arboricultural matters; this is their area of expertise. Failing to carry out adequate checks is no excuse. This sends a clear message to those working in this space, appropriate checks must be made,” she adds.

It was revealed the developer, Eden Developments and the company contracted to undertake the development, Stonewood Group Limited, had received an arboricultural report for the site that disclosed the tree’s status, but this was not provided to the defendants.

Judge Dickey said she, “was troubled by the existence of an arboricultural report which had been obtained by the developer prior to the site clearance, but not provided to the WTSL.”

She went on to say she had little doubt that if disclosed the tree would not have been destroyed.

But Judge Dickey still found the company, WTSL, and Mr Mills-Houghton the owner, were careless in the way they approached the matter of checking the register and the company’s checks should have been more robust.

“While a website check was undertaken it missed the notation for this tree because of the way in which the check function is set up; the omission was compounded by the people ‘on the ground’ relying only on the advice from their employer as opposed to making their own assessment and checking further.

“Whilst there was no deliberate non-compliance, the defendants clearly ought to have known better as qualified people experienced in this field,” she added.

Both defendants were remorseful, offering to take steps to put matters right. They sought to replace the copper beech tree with the most mature beech they could find in the North Island.

Judge Dickey found the environmental effects of the loss of the tree were serious “as the qualities it provided could not be easily replicated and to destroy such a tree was to remove its benefits from the community for a generation, at least.”

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