12 Mar 2015

Kauri protester hands himself in

6:25 pm on 12 March 2015

A man who spent four days up a kauri tree in Auckland protesting against a council consent to cut it down has been charged with trespassing.

Tree climber Michael Tavares who climbed a 500-year-old West Auckland kauri tree in a bid to save it from being felled

Michael Travares, who has been charged with protesting. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Michael Tavares climbed down the tree, in the suburb of Titirangi, once the property owners gave an assurance that the tree would not be cut down.

Earlier this week, the police verbally served Mr Tavares with a trespass order after he climbed 25 metres to stop the felling of the kauri.

This afternoon, Mr Tavares tweeted a video of himself on his way to hand himself into the New Lynn Police station, where he was charged with trespass.

He will appear in court next month.

A spokesperson for Mr Tavares said the protest had been effective.

Aprilanne Bonar said the charges were not a concern, and Mr Tavares climbed the tree fully aware of the ramifications.

"Once we knew that the trees were safe, then Michael made the decision to come down the tree, because his role was to protect the kauri, which is what he's done. The developers and questions about compensation are for another matter."

She said she believed the tree had been saved despite uncertainty over whether the landowners will be compensated.

Council will not buy land

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the council was not considering buying the land that had been the site of the protests over saving two trees.

Mr Brown said it did not help when there were competing philosophies rife in the community.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown

Auckland Mayor Len Brown Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

"We need to build houses flat-out. Our houses are too expensive. And we have a community, at the same time, who want to get into more affordable housing, at the same time, having a very strong view about the environmental impact that the building of those houses impacts and affects."

Mr Brown said the fate of the trees was unclear although an assurance in an open letter from the developers the trees would stay appears to be good enough for now.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse agreed that buying the land was not an option.

She said the council needed to be very cautious about promising to use ratepayers' money to solve problems such as this, which would set a very challenging precedent.

Ms Hulse said the consent process had been swift and needed examining.

"The process has kind of charged along a little bit in the last four years, as we've got the supercity up and running, and I think it's a really good time to stop and have a look. Have we set the dial correctly between public notification and environmental concerns?"

She said the significance of the kauri and an associated rimu was not recognised in the consent process.

An Auckland Council committee meeting today looked the matter as an extraordinary item.

It has unanimously decided to conduct a full review of this particular consent process.

Mr Brown said he absolutely stood by the abilities of the staff involved in that process.

The section owners this morning suggested the council buy the land, where protesters have been trying to prevent a kauri and a rimu being cut down to make way for two houses.

Trees 'need to stay'

In an open letter released this morning, Mr Lenihan and Ms Greensmith said they would let the kauri, and a second mature tree, a rimu, remain on the Titirangi property.

But they also said in the letter they want to hand the responsibility to others including the council, to buy the land and compensate them.

The open letter canvassed what the owners said were complex and contradictory rules governing building in their part of Auckland - but said they had a plan to keep the trees.

"Let the trees stay including the kauri which we have been calling 500, and the rimu called 300. It doesn't matter how old they are as they now need to stay.

"Some other trees might have to go - this is the compromise bit, but let's keep it to a minimum. Trees grow faster than you all think," the letter said.

Auckland Council had previously allowed the removal of the trees so the developers could build two homes.

Mr Lenihan and Ms Greensmith said they had been overwhelmed with the agendas of Auckland council, politicians, protesters during the past few days.

Read their full letter here.

Protesters call letter confusing

Protesters presented the committee with a 26,000 signature petition, asking for the kauri and rimu to be saved.

They have asked the councillors to lobby central government to change the Resource Management Act (RMA) - and to get the property owners to drop their current resource consent to remove the trees.

They said the open letter from owners this morning about not felling the trees was confusing.

Meanwhile, Auckland council's consent team said it never verified the age of the two trees at the centre of the protest, but was told the kauri could be up to 200 years old.

Protestors had said the kauri was 500 years old, and a nearby rimu 300.

But a member of the council's consent team told the committee information they had received from arborists in the last few days suggested the kauri was 150 to 200 years old.